Maple Shade High School joins about 75 schools nationwide that are participating in a mental health training program for teens with the National Council for Behavioral Health and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.
MAPLE SHADE — Maple Shade High School is one of just about 40 around the nation chosen to pilot mental health first aid training for high schoolers with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and the National Council for Behavioral Health this year.
Two staff members, high school nurse Veronica Manlove and district social worker Dana Rahmel, recently returned from an October training in Orlando, Florida, which prepared representatives from schools to introduce the specialized training to students.
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“This training shows they can find someone in this district, at home, in church, who they can use as a trusted adult, and they can reach out to them and make that contact,” Manlove said. “That’s so important, because the adult, then, could help the child too. It will be impactful and practical.”
Rahmel added, “We were so excited to be selected for the pilot program. It was so exciting to be part of the training, to learn about the material. We cannot wait to roll this out and get started.”
The in-person training for high school students in grades 10 to 12 seeks to inform them about mental illnesses, and how to identify and respond to a developing mental health or substance use problem among their peers, according to the foundation. Similar to learning how to perform CPR, students learn a five-step action plan to help their friends who may be facing a mental health crisis, such as suicide, and highlights the important step of involving a responsible and trusted adult.
Students who go through the training are certified as “mental health first aiders,” not to be confused with mental health first responder training that adults often go through.
This year is the second year the program has been introduced to a new cohort of schools, and in total, 75 districts nationwide have participated. The first aid program is being researched by Johns Hopkins University, where public health researchers are studying the pilot program’s effectiveness.
The Born This Way Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the famous singer and actress Lady Gaga, developed the mental health training in collaboration with the National Council on Behavioral Health.
“Through this pilot, Maple Shade High School is taking an important step toward ensuring their students are able to recognize when a friend or peer might be struggling and to feel confident that they know what to do to help,” Born This Way Foundation President and Co-Founder Cynthia Germanotta, who’s also Lady Gaga’s mother, said in a statement. “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.”
At Maple Shade, the training will be implemented in partnership with the Mental Health Association of New Jersey (MHANJ) and the New Jersey Health Initiatives Program.
More schools in New Jersey will soon introduce lessons on mental health in various forms, following the passing of a bill in August that would require schools to incorporate mental health into kindergarten through twelfth-grade curriculum.
Maple Shade has already found some success in mental health first aid, which made the district a strong candidate to pilot the Born This Way Foundation’s training program, said Ruth Kaluski, program director at MHANJ.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Health Initiatives awarded the district a $16,000 grant last year, and for the past year and a half, the district has been providing mental health first aid training for faculty and staff.
However, students don’t always turn to those teachers or staff members, which is why Rahmel and Manlove are looking forward to rolling out a training program that’s designed for teenagers.
“Studies have shown that most students don’t go to an adult first,” Rahmel said. “They go to their peers. This is a way to head off any potential issues through education and demonstration.”
Manlove is also hoping the training will reduce stigma around mental health issues, and empower students to be more open if they’re struggling.
“There’s still a lot of stigma attached to mental health. Students may identify that they’re anxious or having a panic attack sometimes, but it’s very rare, and if everything’s behind closed doors, they’re in a bathroom stall because they don’t want people to see them,” Manlove said. “I don’t see de-stigmatization as much as I’d expect.”
The teachers are hopeful that the training will make students more confident that they know the right steps to take when they notice someone else struggling.
“We’re not expecting young people to handle their friends’ mental health issues per say,” Jaime Angelini, director of consumer services at the state’s Mental Health Association, said. ”We want to help them differentiate between a problem and a point where a trusted adult needs to be brought in. “It’s a great way to provide education and encourage them to provide that help when they’re able.”