A Springfield high school was selected as one of eight pilot schools to participate in a new, nationwide mental health training program for high school students. The program, called Mental Health First Aid, aims to inform students on mental health issues and provide them ways in which to respond to their friends in a mental health crisis.
Lady Gaga founded the Born This Way Foundation with her mother seven years ago to advocate for mental health awareness through two main goals: “empowering youth” and “inspiring bravery.”
This year, her foundation partnered with the National Council for Behavioral Health to introduce teen Mental Health First Aid programs across the country. President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, Linda Rosenberg, explained the purpose of the program in a press release.
“Mental Health First Aid is a simple training that everyone can take to learn more about mental illness and addiction, what treatments are available, and what they can do to support someone who may be in distress,” Rosenberg said. “We’re thrilled to continue our partnership with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to spread the Mental Health First Aid movement to even more people.”
Kickapoo High School counselors Amy Moran and Mavie Busboom wanted their school to participate as a pilot program, so they applied in hopes of getting involved.
“We had to apply and give a proposal about our population, why why we want to do it, why we think it’s important (and) how many teachers are trained to teach it,” Moran said.
Once their application was selected, the two counselors traveled to Washington, D.C. where they trained with the only two people qualified to train teachers for MHFA before returning to teach their own sessions to their sophomores.
According to their website, MHFA aims to teach students in grades 10 through 12 about topics such as depression and addiction and how to deal with it both personally and in regards to their friends who may deal with the same issues.
Springfield Public Schools and the Community Partnership of the Ozarks will partner to pilot the program, and Moran said she believes this program takes mental health education a step further than what students learn in class.
“I’ve been a counselor for 15 years, and we go in and do little bits of mental health training, but not like this,” Moran said. “It’s really like CPR but for mental health. I was so excited when I went to training and saw the curriculum.”
The program is described as “CPR but for mental health” because it focuses on five steps much like the steps used in CPR training. This program goes beyond what students are taught about mental health in textbooks. According to the CPO website, the program uses role playing and simulations to help students assess a mental health crisis.
“It’s highly intensive training, so we are doing it all in one day in three 75 minute sessions,” Moran said. “It’s very specific on how to help a friend that’s struggling either with a mental health problem or mental health crisis, and it gives very specific action steps of what they need to do to help them.”
On Wednesday March 5, Moran, Busboom and three other community partners worked with 35 sophomores on the first MHFA training session. Because it is a pilot program, its success will be measured and could lead to bringing MHFA to other schools in the community.
The program is measured for its effectiveness as part of a research program conducted by John Hopkins University.
“It wasn’t just honors kids,” Moran said. “It was all random, so it was the first 35 kids in sophomore class by alphabet. There were kids in there that get in trouble all the time, kids that aren’t the most popular and keep to themselves, and the real popular kids, and they all responded great to it.”
The research group will conduct surveys on the students in the program, along with conducting follow-up surveys throughout their time in high school on how it helps them deal with mental health crises.
According to Moran, the school and its partners have proposed a soft launch of the same program to involve more schools in MHFA. This would require trainers in the area to travel to other schools in the community and train them in MHFA.
They said they hope to later enact a full launch in Springfield and plan to stay active in training other schools so all sophomores in Springfield get an opportunity to train.
Julia Baird, a sophomore who participated in the MHFA training, said the information she learned was almost entirely new to her, and she could use what she learned to help a friend in crisis or dealing with mental health problems. She said she thinks all students should be trained in the program.