Gardner Edgerton schools piloting program to teach students Mental Health First Aid

GARDNER, Kan. -- Local schools continue to find new ways to tackle the growing mental health crisis.

Gardner Edgerton recently landed a major grant to offer a first-of-its kind class to high schoolers.

All Gardner Edgerton staff are already trained in Mental Health First Aid. And now, thanks to a grant through USA Mental Health First Aid and Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, the district is among just 35 in the nation, and the only in our area, to take part in a Teen Mental Health First Aid pilot program.

"To equip our students with what to look for, what do I do when I'm worried, who do I talk to and how do I handle things, like depression and suicide," McIntire said.

Starting next month, all 400-plus district sophomores will take the class, taught by Johnson County Mental Health.

"They will spend time in the class with lessons and then they'll also have time in there where they can ask questions and have discussions and it's important that we have our counselors and social workers there because there's going to be topics that could be very sensitive," Gardner Edgerton School Superintendent Pam Stranathan said.

The Mental Health First Aid course aims to teach teens not just how to recognize issues in their classmates but also in themselves. In a National Council for Behavioral Health video, students across the country already in the program say it's been a huge help.

A recent history of mental health awareness

The district has really heightened its focus on mental health in schools the past few years.  We've told you about the "Zero Reasons Why" program it joined along with other Johnson County schools. The district also recently added a mental health co-responder.

Now, the Teen Mental Health First Aid program aims to teach teens how to handle a mental health crisis.

"What we realized is we've equipped our staff, and they know what to do, but students are going to go to their friends first when they're struggling," Melissa McIntire, Gardner Edgerton Schools studnet support services coordinator, said.

Thursday afternoon, a group of Gardner Edgerton students were learning about American history, but they've got a lot more than these lessons to juggle. The pressures of handling it all can become overwhelming and lead to a mental health crisis.

"It kind of opens your eyes to like realize that you're not alone with these problems," student Persephone Valdes said.

Gardner Edgerton leaders hope students walk away with lifelong skills to handle whatever is thrown their way.

"The ultimate dream out of this would be that every kid, every family are equipped with the skills to just be able to deal with life stress," Stranathan said.

Leaders at Gardner Edgerton said that, even after the grant runs out, they plan to continue offering Teen Mental Health First Aid. In  a couple weeks, they're also connecting with businesses in the community, who employ many students and their families, to offer a mental health first class to them, too.

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