BOULDER – A press release issued from the Montana Hospital Association stated that Jefferson High School is participating in the country’s first teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) pilot program starting March 22 in Boulder. The school was one of eight selected by the National Council for Behavioral Health and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation who are piloting the course in high schools this spring, making it the first training of its kind developed for high school students in the U.S.
“We are thrilled to introduce teen Mental Health First Aid to our community,” said Tim Norbeck, superintendent of Jefferson High School District 1. “The program will teach high school students to recognize and respond when their friends are experiencing the early stages of a mental health or addiction problem.”
An in-person training designed for high school students, tMHFA teaches them about mental illnesses and addictions, particularly how to identify and respond to a developing mental health or substance use problem among their peers. Similar to CPR, students learn a five-step action plan to help their friends who may be facing a mental health problem or crisis, such as suicide.
Statewide mental health provider Youth Dynamics applied for the grant on behalf of JCHS and leveraged the state’s existing mental health education infrastructure at the South Central and North Central Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) hosted by the Montana Hospital Association in Helena.
“The selection of a Montana school reflects the significant need for mental health support in our state, but also the significant potential of our existing programs and expertise to deliver needed services,” said Natascha Robinson, one of three Montana trainers and director of the South Central AHEC that supports Jefferson County and 10 other counties in the region.
The course specifically highlights the important step of involving a responsible and trusted adult. To ensure additional support for students taking the training, JCHS will also train approximately 20 school staff in Mental Health First Aid for Adults Working with Young People.
“We’re excited Jefferson High School is one of the first U.S. high schools to participate in teen Mental Health First Aid,” said Linda Rosenberg, MSW, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. “Teens trust their friends, so they need to be trained to recognize signs of mental health or substance use problems in their peers. The number one thing a teen can do to support a friend dealing with anxiety or depression is to help the friend seek support from a trusted adult.”
“Through this pilot, Jefferson High School is taking an important step towards ensuring their students are able to recognize when a friend or peer might be struggling and to feel confident that they know what to do to help,” said Cynthia Germanotta, president and co-founder of Born This Way Foundation. “Knowing how to spot the signs that someone in our lives is experiencing a mental health challenge and understanding how we can support that person is a basic life skill we all need to have – especially teenagers.”
The National Council adapted tMHFA, an evidence-based training program from Australia with support from Born This Way Foundation and Well Being Trust. The pilot program is being evaluated by researchers from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health to assess its effectiveness. The training will be made available to the public following an analysis of the pilot study.