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West Bladen High School is participating in the expanded teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) pilot program, the first of its kind developed for high school students in the U.S., beginning this month.

The school is one of 40 sites selected in the country to take part in the second cohort of the pilot program, bringing the total of sites teaching the program to more than 75.

“We are thrilled to introduce teen Mental Health First Aid to our community and will be implementing this with all 10th-grade students,” said Angela Mendell, behavior support specialist of Bladen County Schools and the district liaison for tMHFA. “The program will teach high school students to recognize and respond when their friends are experiencing the early stages of a mental health or addiction problem.”

Mendell, along with Tulisha Pridgen, behavior support specialist for Bladen County Schools, will collaboratively deliver the training to the students over a five-week rotating schedule through the end of the school year.

tMHFA is an in-person training program designed for high school students to learn about mental illnesses and addictions and how to identify and respond to a developing mental health or substance use problem among their peers. Similar to CPR, students learn a five-step action plan to help their friends who may be facing a mental health problem or crisis, such as suicide.

The course specifically highlights the important step of involving a responsible and trusted adult. To ensure additional support for students taking the training, the district has also trained several district staff along with an increased number of staff at West Bladen in Mental Health First Aid for Adults Working with Young People.

“We’re thrilled West Bladen is one of the first U.S. high schools to participate in teen Mental Health First Aid,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president, and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. “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 them seek support from a trusted adult.”

“My dream is that this [program] happens in every school. I’m just so proud of all of you,” said Born This Way Foundation’s co-founder Lady Gaga when she spoke with some of the first cohort of students who took the teen Mental Health First Aid program earlier this year.

“Through this pilot, West Bladen 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,” said Cynthia Germanotta, president and co-founder of Born This Way Foundation. “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.”

tMHFA is an evidence-based training program from Australia. The National Council adapted the training with support from Born This Way Foundation and Well Being Trust. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health are assessing the pilot program to evaluate its effectiveness. The training will be available to the public following an analysis of the pilot study.

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