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New Texas Girl Scouts patch focuses on mental health and managing emotions – Houston Chronicle

Girl Scout Troop 118037 members Emmie Likeness, 9, Amita Ramcharan, 10, and Rachel Rajabi, 8, pose with their vests to show off the Okay to Say mental health badge they earned late last year.
Girl Scouts across Texas can now earn a mental health bade dubbed “Okay to Say.” Houston-based Hackett Center for Mental Health helped develop the curriculum for the badge.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emily Likeness, 9, shows her Okay to Say mental health badge, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Marcy Melvin, deputy director of The Hackett Center for Mental Health
Atascocita Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Maddie Hanson, center, 10, plays with other troop members before their meeting begins.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 Camilla Kelley, 9, Charlotte Schneider, 9, and Tealey Kotch, 10, prepare rocks with positive messages to spread around the Eagle Springs Sports Complex in Atascocita.
Members of Girl Scout Troop 118037 in Atascocita at a horseback riding outing.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emily Likeness, 9, shows her Okay to Say mental health badge, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emily Likeness, 9, shows her Okay to Say mental health badge, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emily Likeness, 9, shows the Okay to Say mental health badge that she earned late last year.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emily Likeness, 9, shows her Okay to Say mental health badge, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emily Likeness, 9, Amita Ramcharan, 10, and Rachel Rajabi, 8, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emily Likeness, 9, Amita Ramcharan, 10, and Rachel Rajabi, 8, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emily Likeness, 9, Amita Ramcharan, 10, and Rachel Rajabi, 8, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emily Likeness, 9, Amita Ramcharan, 10, and Rachel Rajabi, 8, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 members Tealey Kotch, 10, and Maddie Hanson, right, 10, play together before troop’s meeting begins, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Tealey Kotch, center, 10, plays with other troop members before the troop’s meeting begins, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Emma Schrade, 8, prepares rocks with positive messages to place on different places at the Eagle Springs Sports Complex, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 member Areyana Smith, 10, prepares rocks with positive messages to place on different places at the Eagle Springs Sports Complex, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 members Charlotte Schneider, 9, and Tealey Kotch, 10, prepare rocks with positive messages to place on different places at the Eagle Springs Sports Complex, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
Girl Scout Troop 118037 Camilla Kelley, 9, Charlotte Schneider, 9, and Tealey Kotch, 10, prepare rocks with positive messages to place on different places at the Eagle Springs Sports Complex, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Atascocita.
For one of the patches they recently earned, Girl Scouts Emmie Likeness, Rachel Rajabi and Amita Ramcharan learned new words that many adolescent children may not understand: anxiety, panic attack, mental health, coping skills and even stigma.
Before tackling the new Okay to Say mental health patch, Emmie, Rachel, Amita and their Girl Scout “sisters” may have experienced worry, sadness or anxiety, but they didn’t always know what to call the emotions or how to cope with them.
The Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas and the Hackett Center for Mental Health developed the patch in 2019 as an opportunity for young girls to learn to identify their feelings, verbalize them and then approach their parents or other adults for help. Because of its local success, the patch went statewide in 2020.
They’re practices that have risen to a new level of importance during the coronavirus pandemic, when bad news seems to come from every direction.
Symptoms of anxiety and depression have quadrupled during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2020 alone, 20 percent of children and adolescents experienced some mental health issue, said Marcy Melvin, deputy director of the Hackett Center for Mental Health and one of the clinical leads developing the curriculum and clinical review of the new badge.
Emmie, Rachel and Amita and the other girls in Troop 118037 at Atascocita Springs Elementary School are among the more than 5,500 Girl Scouts who have earned the new badge — most of them in Texas. Though Okay to Say doesn’t have formal partnerships with states outside of Texas, the patch is available to Girl Scouts nationally, and 142 in 12 other states have earned it.
The patch is one component of the broader Okay to Say public awareness campaign of the Hackett Center and the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.
“I’ve learned that it’s OK to speak up and share your problems with other people instead of just bottling it up,” said Amita, who is 10 and in fifth grade. “I had a big anxiety attack one night. I took deep breaths and cuddled with my mom until I felt better. I was just frustrated that day.”
Sometimes talking helps, but Amita also uses deep breathing and aromatherapy — especially the eucalyptus scent — to calm herself. Through hands-on lessons, the girls learned other potential mindfulness strategies, including yoga and meditation.
Having empathy for others is a big lesson, and for Emmie, crying is a signal that something is wrong.
“We did these lessons, and we role-played what you would do if you saw somebody at school and they were crying. We got to figure out a practice if that happened,” said Emmie, 9 and in fourth grade.
“If I saw someone crying I would say to them, ‘Are you OK, and do you need a hug?’ If they don’t want to talk and only want alone time, I would leave them alone,” she continued, noting a time at school when a classmate was crying, upset because her parents were divorcing.
Melvin said this new Scouts patch is a proactive approach for girls and their parents or caregivers to deal with intense emotions.
“It allows girls to go to their parents and think through how they feel when they’re struggling. ‘What does it feel like? What are things in my environment that cause me to feel that way?’ And then, ‘What are helpful tips and strategies to use when I feel that way?’” Melvin said, noting that the language and curriculum apply to girls from elementary school through high school.
“Often we’re so busy feeling the feelings that we’re not even thinking about it,” Melvin added. “We’re drowning in the emotion. When we can step back and think about what those emotions are, it becomes a lot easier for girls to see it in their peers and other people as well.”
The most critical part of earning the badge is that girls understand that when they experience strong emotions, they should sit down with a caring adult to talk about their feelings and come up with a plan to manage it — not operate in isolation, which can make them feel as if they are the only person struggling.
Before earning this patch, neither Amita, Emmie nor Rachel even knew what the term “mental health” meant, even if they’d already experienced a variety of emotions. When the pandemic began and they suddenly found themselves attending school on a laptop from home, they all felt stressed in the moment, unsure of how long it would last.
Diane Likeness, Emmie’s mom and Troop 118037’s leader, said the girls went through lessons together and took some of them home to talk about with their families.
“I thought it was so important to have an opportunity to build their emotional confidence,” Likeness said. “They face challenges even in elementary school. We worked on building those skills, so they’re ready to face the world.
“(The group work) opened a dialogue about their own personal experiences, and I was surprised to see what they were talking about in school and at home. As a troop leader and mom, it was moving to see them open up to their sister Girl Scouts and share their challenges.”
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Diane Cowen has worked at the Houston Chronicle since 2000 and currently its architecture and home design writer. Prior to working for the Chronicle, she worked at the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune and at the Shelbyville (Ind.) News. She is a graduate of Purdue University and is the author of a cookbook, “Sunday Dinners: Food, Family and Faith from our Favorite Pastors.”
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