- Some schools and communities are now offering mental health first aid courses designed to help participants be better prepared to note early signs of mental distress in students and help connect them with the people and resources they need before tragedies like suicide occur, District Administration reports.
- About 400 educators in Virginia's Fauquier County Public Schools and about 1,000 community members have already completed a mental health first-aid course funded by grants. The program is now becoming embedded In the community and is spreading to neighboring districts.
- Jefferson High School in Montana, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, is also beginning a similar pilot program funded by the National Council for Behavioral Health and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation — though this program focuses on training students in a peer-to-peer mental health first-aid program to reduce the stigma of mental distress and reach those more likely to talk to their peers.
With teen suicides on the rise, school districts are considering what they can do to help prevent them. Suicides occur for several reasons, including depression, bullying, addiction, and relationship issues. They can also occur in the wake of tragedies or because of the impact of television shows or other content that portrays suicide in a way that draws adolescents in. Principals need to embed strategies for suicide prevention in their programs in order to save student lives.
While most suicides do not occur at school, events at school can have an impact on a student’s decision. School is also the place where most students will meet with people outside their homes who can have an impact on their mental health and identify signs of trouble before they erupt into crisis mode. Training staff members and some mature students in the use of mental health first aid tactics can be a valuable first line of response to these issues and can help students connect with the resources they need to improve their situation.
Social-emotional learning (SEL) can benefit schools in this effort. While SEL and mental health education are not the same, they do have some commonalities. SEL can equip students with some strategies to improve mental health and combat the stress factors in their lives. It can also open discussions of mental health issues that can help remove the stigma of seeking mental health support. Mental health education can also help students learn to recognize which responses are normal and which are not.
While mental health support is not the primary purpose of education, it is a vital component because it affects so many aspects of education. Good mental health improves academic performance and impacts school safety. It also affects school climate which, in turn, impacts teacher retention. And, of course, it benefits students by preparing them to face the future with a better mindset, armed with the tools they need to succeed.