School social worker plays important role in caring for students’ mental health

Debbie Gudenkauf discusses her involvement with the jagPRIDE club and easy tips on how to improve mental health


By Baylen Monson

Standing outside her office, school social worker Debbie Gudenkauf talks with a student Wednesday, Nov. 30

Madelyn Welch, JagWire Writer/Photographer

Since the start of COVID-19, the school has seen a rise in mental health issues. Whether students are having trouble with their mental health, or just having a bad day there is a resource many students don’t know exists. School social worker Debbie Gudenkauf has been working at Mill Valley for eighteen years and loves to help students work through difficult things. 

Gudenkauf graduated from the University of Kansas with both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work and has adopted some of the philosophies she learned there. 

“I am less concerned about a specific diagnosis that may have been given to a student and more concerned about how the associated thoughts and behaviors may impact their ability to function at school as well as in their social or home life,” Gudenkauf said. “I come from what’s known as a “strengths perspective” – simply the belief that we all have strengths we can use to help navigate through difficult times.”

By Katelyn Krosky

Senior Sophie Sena has been going to see Gudenkauf intermittently throughout the past couple of years and says Gudenkauf has given her tools to manage her anxiety. 

“I used to struggle with a lot of test anxiety in one of my classes and so I went to her about it because I was freaking out one day,” Sena said. “She taught me how to calm myself down, and she also was able to help me get separate settings for tests in that class. That really helped me do a lot better.”

Gudenkauf also sponsors and leads JagPride, a club for students against destructive decisions who promote better mental health. Senior Helen Springer, a member of the club, says Gudenkauf helps the students in the club sort through different ideas.

“She really helps us organize everything. She basically comes up with almost all the ideas and if she didn’t come up with it, she definitely encourages us to pursue the idea, and she’ll help us out with all of that,” Springer said. “I also know that she has been a help to a bunch of students with their problems and struggles and also gives really good guidance even if you just have a question.”

According to Gudenkauf, there are small ways to improve mental health on a daily basis, and learning these strategies will help with balance in life. 

“One of the easiest ways to improve one’s mental health is to practice healthy time management and build in time to intentionally take care of oneself,” Gudenkauf said.

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