The Lincoln County Health Department partners with local organizations and schools to train high school students to recognize mental health issues among their friends and peers.
This is the first time the training has taken place in Lincoln County, according to county public health administrator Jennifer McCurry.
The training is known as Teenage Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA), and the Libby and Eureka school district plans to begin training next year.
“We’re all just looking for ways to improve mental health and prevent suicide,” McCurry said.
After training individuals to become instructors in the tMHFA community, McCully hopes the program will continue with Libby and Eureka for years to come. Troy’s school has chosen not to participate at this time, he said, McCully.
This training is supported by the LOR Foundation, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, the Western Montana Mental Health Center, and the Lincoln County Commission.
The program was originally brought to the United States by the National Mental Wellbeing Council in partnership with the Born This Way Foundation.
“We teach young people how to have supportive conversations with friends and get help from responsible and trusted adults,” the Lincoln County Health Department said in a press release.
Libby Public Schools Superintendent Ron Goodman said: “This program teaches high school students to recognize and respond when a friend is experiencing mental health or substance use issues.”
In Troy, schools have not opted to participate in this program, but the district supports teen mental health in ways that are tailored to the district’s unique needs.
“At Troy, our focus is on stratified levels of support, support for positive behavioral interventions, and engagement in preventative measures to get a stratified approach,” he said. Cody Pallister, director of special education, psychologist, and counselor at Troy Schools.
In elementary school, the district uses Second Steps and Strong Kids programs, and in high school, Troy meets Montana standards. The school district has also developed a board-approved curriculum that focuses not just on bullying components, but on prevention and resilience components, Pallister said.
If needed, Troy also has therapists at both the high school and elementary school levels who provide more intensive support.
“One of the things we’re looking at, and a lot of schools are looking at, is that it’s hard to get accurate behavioral data,” says Pallister.
As with Libby and Eureka’s new program, Troy is looking to increase proper communication between students and the school.
“What we need is to get that communication from our students and parents so that we can work effectively with the service support we have,” says Pallister.
For elementary school students, communication is easy to tackle as a school, but at the middle and high school level it can be student-dependent, Pallister said.
“What works for our community may not work for someone else. That doesn’t mean we won’t consider it in the future,” Pallister said. Even just working from student to student, of course, there are students who present unique variables, and these need to be addressed in their own way, and teachers know that.”