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Students helping students: Hardin schools turn to peer network to boost mental health

Posted at 4:43 PM, Apr 16, 2024

HARDIN — The number of adolescents nationwide reporting poor mental health is increasing. According to the CDC, 42% of high schools students surveyed in 2021 reported feeling sad or hopeless, an increase from 37% in 2019.

Montana students are no different, which is why Hardin school administrators are making mental health care their number one priority, in more ways than one. They've launched a new effort for students to help other students maintain their mental health and partnered
with national groups to bring in additional resources to help students who are struggling.

Sixteen-year-old Hardin High School sophomore Lauren Krebs can relate, but you wouldn't guess it by just looking at her.

“I like to work out, read, write poetry," Krebs said on Monday at Hardin High School.

Hardin High School sophomore Lauren Krebs

What you don't see, however, is how Krebs feels on the inside.

“I’ve had problems with mental health for like a long time. It’s been a struggle to deal with it and cope with it in my life,” said Krebs.

Though she's taking care of her mental health with therapy, Krebs' isn't alone. According to the Office of Public Instruction's 2023 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 22.7% of Montana students seriously considered attempting suicide. Twenty-two percent of students actually made a suicide plan.

“We’ve also had a student attempt this year and one student that did complete this year. So, we need all the support that we can get," said Hardin High School Principal Deanna Albert.

Albert said almost every problem has one thing in common.

“We have fights that start on social media. Physical fights within the school. We see kids just being bullied through social media. That’s really where 90% of our issues come from, social media,” Albert said.

Hardin High School Principal Deanna Albert

To combat these issues, the Hardin School District has implemented a number of resources.

“We’re putting a lot of resources in place. We’ve talked a little bit about the Hope Squad. We’ve had all our staff, has done QPR training,” said Superintendent Tobin Novasio.

The Hope Squad is a peer support network where students are trained to be the first layer of detection for kids who are struggling. QPR is a similar resource.

“Question, persuade, refer, it’s really viewed as a mental health CPR. And the idea is, all of our Hope kids will be trained in QPR, it’s one of the partnerships we have,” Novasio added.

They've also partnered with One Health, the Tribal Health Department and the Jed Foundation to tackle the mental healthcare issue. The Jed Foundation is a national organization that works to strengthen emotional health and reduce harmful behaviors for young adults.

Hardin schools superintendent Tobin Novasio

Hardin was one of 15 school districts nationwide chosen by the School Superintendents Association to participate in the program, and the only one in Montana.

“The Jed Foundation isn’t really specific programs. It’s more about the training that goes along for our staff and the support that they’re going to help us with. What’s really nice for us is we’re going to be able to tap into their expertise,” said Novasio.

The partnership came to fruition through a grant from the School Superintendents Association, and it's resources like these that give teens like Krebs hope for the future.

“Whenever I am on Hope Squad next year, I just want to make people to feel like they’re not alone. I may look normal on the outside and fine, but you never really know what’s going on under the surface. And it’s not a bad thing to have a mental health issue,” Krebs said.

Hardin schools have also kicked off a partnership with Parent to host monthly virtual Mental Health Nights. You can find out more information here.