Kathe Enix: 'We're their first line of help'

Kathe Enix works as a mental health associate at Acadia Montana in Butte. Acadia is a psychiatric residential treatment facility for children ages 5-18.

Kathe also serves as president of her local MEA-MFT union, the Federation of Health Care Workers.

She has worked at Acadia for nine years, previously on the day shift, now on the night shift, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Here’s what we learned about Kathe:

What I do and why it matters: As mental health associates, we help integrate the children back into society. We see a vast range of conditions: ADHD, bipolar, schizoaffective disorder. Some of the children have been severely abused. Some are depressed or suicidal.

We are kind of like surrogate parents, guiding them in proper manners, boundaries, and hygiene. We also help them in the classroom; we have an accredited school here. We facilitate group sessions in anger management, social skills, self-esteem, setting targets and goals.

We teach them virtues such as courtesy, kindness, and fairness. We also teach de-escalation skills. Some of these children have little no impulse control. You have to have a lot of patience. They may lash out, even hit you. 

We’re their first line of help, their base foundation. We try to establish relationships with them so they feel safe, so they can work their treatment.

It matters because these kids all deserve a chance in life to be successful. We let them know they are good people and they do matter. They deserve to be treated with respect, kindness, and compassion. They deserve medical treatment too, which some have never had before.

Some of these kids have wonderful parents who just don’t know how to deal with them. Some have never had anyone to listen or care about them before.

I work Christmas Day a lot. We have a tree and presents for the kids. One young adolescent boy told me once, “This is the best Christmas I ever had.” He has no family. Those things pull at your heartstrings.

Best part of the job: I really like interacting with the kids, such as in groups—seeing a spark when they’re interacting with each other and everyone is peaceful and calm and getting along.

Why I belong to MEA-MFT: It’s important as an employee to have someone who is on your side, to advocate for you, to maintain wages and benefits.

In mental health, especially, wages are not high. If we didn’t have a union to help us, it would be worse. This job is tough; it’s emotionally draining, and there is a lot of turnover. But the union helps us get the best package we can, to make sure we have some security. We might not make a lot, but over the years we have negotiated pretty good benefits. The union is our safety net.

What I do for fun: I love to watch football, play with my dogs, visit my daughter in California, and read.

Good book I’ve read lately: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Thank you, Kathe, to you and all our members at Acadia who do Work That Matters for Montana kids and families!