Mental Health Pilot Program Coming to VHS

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The newly redesigned courtyard of the Vicksburg High School on the west side invites students and visitors to enter the school campus.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High School is one of 35 in the nation to be accepted in the teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) pilot program, Principal Adam Brush announced at the beginning of the school year.

It teaches students the skills to recognize when their friends are experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge and respond to it. Emphasis is on how to get the help of a trusted adult, Brush pointed out.

“With this training, our high school students will be empowered to assist their friends when a mental health challenge or crisis, such as suicidal thoughts, is apparent,” Brush said.

This course is not being introduced because of any specific problems at Vicksburg High School, Brush said. It recognizes that mental health challenges are very common in adolescents. tMHFA, similar to CPR, is an important step towards ensuring students know what to do and how to get help for a friend. Students trust their friends and often turn to each other when stressed or upset. tMHFA teaches that youth don’t have to take on these challenges alone. The course discusses issues such as school violence, bullying and suicide, parents were told in a message to tenth graders who have been chosen to receive the training.

“The course specifically teaches the important step of involving a responsible and trusted adult,” Brush said. “As such, we have also trained many of our high school staff in Mental Health First Aid for Adults Working with Young People. We were only able to select one class and we thought since 10th graders would be here the longest it would benefit the school the most to have them trained. We will, however, offer training for anyone interested outside of school.

“We know that many teens are suffering from trauma and anxiety. We thought that this was a good start. We have been training staff in Mental Health First Aid since last school year. Lady Gaga and The Born This Way Foundation help to sponsor the grant. It is a great opportunity,” Brush said.

The National Council for Behavioral Health and Born This Way Foundation are piloting the course in 35 high schools across the country. After the pilot program is complete, the training course will be available to the public.

Brush was contacted by Danielle Sackrider, a high school parent who works at Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse, to determine if there would be any interest in applying for the grant. She was inspired to go ahead and write the grant with a co-worker and Brush’s help. Other schools selected are scattered throughout the United States in big and small communities.

Sackrider has a son in the 10th grade in Vicksburg. “This class will focus on the benefits of knowing what to do if a crisis should arise. It’s OK not to be OK,” Sackrider said. “We hope to encourage the conversation as it is not unusual to have these thoughts of suicide, anxiety, depression.”

“We are excited to support a path toward greater awareness about mental health and increased capacity to respond to students who struggle with this issue. We will begin training 10th-grade students in November and plan on having an informational parent meeting during conferences on October 10,” Brush said.

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