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Community teams up to recognize teen mental health issues

by HAYDEN BLACKFORD
Daily Inter Lake | January 13, 2023 12:00 AM

The Lincoln County Health Department is partnering with local organizations and schools to train high schoolers to recognize mental health challenges among their friends and peers.

This is the first time the training has happened in Lincoln County, according to county Public Health Manager Jennifer McCully.

The training is known as teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) and the school districts of Libby and Eureka are scheduled to begin the training next year.

“We’re just all looking for ways to improve mental health and prevent suicides,” McCully said. “We’re missing that teen to teen connection.”

After training individuals to be instructors in the community for tMHFA McCully hopes that the program will continue on for years in Libby and Eureka. Troy schools have chosen not to participate at this time, McCully said.

The training is supported by the LOR Foundation, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Western Montana Mental Health Center and the Lincoln County Commissioners.

The program was originally brought to the United States by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing in partnership with the Born This Way Foundation.

“It gives young people the skills to have supportive conversations with their friends and how to get help from a responsible and trusted adult,” the Lincoln County Health Department said in a press release.

“We are thrilled to bring teen Mental Health First Aid to our high school,” said Ron Goodman, Libby Public Schools Superintendent. “This program will teach high school students to recognize and respond when their friends are experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge.”

In Troy, although the school has not chosen to participate in this program, the school district supports teen mental health in ways that are tailored to the unique needs of the school district.

“What we're focusing on in Troy is tiered level supports, positive behavior intervention supports and being involved in those preventative measures to gain a layered approach,” Cody Pallister, the special education director, psychologist and the counselor for Troy Schools.

At the elementary level the school district uses the Second Steps and Strong Kids programs and at the high school Troy matches Montana standards. The school district also has developed a board approved curriculum with a heavy focus on preventative measures and resiliency factors as well as bullying components, Pallister said.

When necessary, Troy also has therapists for more intensive support, at both high school and elementary levels.

“One thing that we’re focused on, which a lot of schools are focused on, is that behavioral data is hard to collect accurately,” Pallister said.

Similarly to the new program for Libby and Eureka, Troy is trying to increase appropriate communication for students to the school, so they can line them up with appropriate school resources.

“The part that we need is to get that communication from our students and our parents so that we can effectively line them up with the services support we have,” Pallister said.

For elementary students, communication can be easy to address as a school, but at junior high and high school level can be student dependent, Pallister said.

“What’s going to be effective for our community might not be effective for someone else, it doesn't mean we wouldn’t consider it down the road,” Pallister said. “Just in working from student to student, of course there’s students that present unique variables. Those need to be addressed in a unique way, and teachers know that, too.”