By: Claudette Riley, Springfield News-Leader
As a high school counselor, Amy Moran appreciates when teenagers trust her enough to confide their problems.
But, even when they do, she believes she's rarely the first to know.
"Teens are telling teens when there is an issue, when they are struggling," said Moran, who is stationed at Kickapoo High School. "They tell a friend first."
A pilot program aims to train high school students on how to respond — and get help — if they, or a friend, are having mental health issues.
Community Partnership of the Ozarks, in partnership with Springfield Public Schools, will participate in the nation's first teen Mental Health First Aid pilot program.
“We are thrilled to introduce teen Mental Health First Aid to our community,” said Chris Davis, vice president of prevention and youth support for CPO, in a news release. “The program will teach students to recognize and respond when their friends are experiencing the early stages of a mental health or addiction problem.”
Springfield is one of eight sites selected by the National Council for Behavioral Health and Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation. In recent years, CPO has championed the effort to train adults — including many teachers — in Mental Health First Aid.
Starting this week, all sophomores at Kickapoo High School will be offered the full-day training.
Moran said Springfield will be the first of the eight pilot sites to start. "They will officially be the first teens trained in Mental Health First Aid."
As part of the training, teens will learn how to spot the warning signs of mental illnesses and addictions and how to respond.
They will be trained in a five-step action plan — similar to CPR — to help friends who may be facing substance abuse issues or a mental health problem or crisis, including suicide.
The training stresses the importance of involving a responsible and trusted adult as soon as possible.
“We’re excited for Kickapoo High School to be one of the first high schools across the country to participate in teen Mental Health First Aid,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, in the release.
“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.”
As part of the pilot program, Moran and fellow Kickapoo counselor Mavie Busboom attended intensive training in the Washington D.C. area. They're going to be training the Kickapoo teens through March and April.
"It's basically teaching students if their friends need help, how to get help," Moran said. "Sometimes, they just need support. They just need a friend."
All Springfield high school students are taught the signs of suicide during their freshman health class.
Rhonda Mammen, director of counseling services for SPS, said that training provides an introduction but the Mental Health First Aid for teens is more comprehensive.
“This will be a great benefit to our students and will seamlessly integrate with the many other efforts we have been implementing at SPS to promote mental health awareness,” said Mammen, in the release.
“Equipping our students and staff to recognize early warning signs is a key step in supporting students who are struggling and connecting them with the help they need to live positive, healthy lives."
In an interview with the News-Leader, Mammen said the district wants to partner with CPO to expand the training to more high schools.
"We want to continue to offer it," she said.
Cynthia Germanotta, president and co-founder of Born This Way Foundation, said the pilot will help in Springfield and beyond.
“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.”