Steelcase Foundation supports teen Mental Health First Aid training in Kent County
Michigan State University Extension has received a three-year gift from the Steelcase Foundation to offer Teen Mental Health First Aid training in Kent County.
Since 2017, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension has been offering Mental Health First Aid training to both its own staff and external organizations. As of 2022, approximately 450 MSU Extension staff members and over 1,000 Michigan residents have been trained in Mental Health First Aid by the MSU Extension team.
A new partnership with the Steelcase Foundation will help to expand the teen Mental Health First Aid program to 10th graders in Kent County, specifically in the Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids school districts.
“We have seen the immense pressure that the pandemic has placed on children, families and schools,” said Daniel Williams, Steelcase Foundation president. “This layered approach works with parents, caregivers, teachers, school staff, students and neighbors to help them identify and appropriately address adolescents experiencing mental health challenges. We are pleased to support a holistic multi-generational approach that both normalizes and equips such a wide range of people to recognize the signs of mental health challenges and provide the tools for them to advocate for themselves and others.”
Mental Health First Aid is an international, evidence-based training that teaches participants how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis and help someone who may be experiencing one. Grounded in messages of hope and recovery, this program helps break down the misinformation surrounding mental health and helps trainees understand how they can play a role in the “first response” to mental health issues.
Using the Youth and Teen Mental Health First Aid curricula, community and school-based adults and teens are trained and provided with tools to help young people in distress by using the ALGEE plan: Assessing for risk of suicide or harm, Listening nonjudgmentally, Giving reassurance and information, Encouraging appropriate professional help, and Encouraging self-help and other support strategies.
The Kent County Teen Mental Health First Aid program launched in the spring of 2022 with 50 youth per site and will continue for three years. The Mental Health First Aid training for adults and teens was delivered in six 45-minute training sessions.
“We are grateful to have a partnership and support from the Steelcase Foundation to identify this need in Kent County and trust us to carry it out in the schools we are in,” said Kea Norrell-Aitch, MSU Extension educator for health and wellbeing. “The ultimate goal is to increase mental health literacy and decrease stigma around mental health challenges and give people the language to use and be more comfortable talking about mental health, in general.”
Norrell-Aitch and Kent County 4-H program coordinator Veronica Quintino-Aranda are the Teen Mental Health First Aid instructors and serve on the statewide Mental Health First Aid team. Additional team members are Brian Wibby, Janelle Stewart and Laura Potter-Niesen.
“Based on research, especially after the pandemic, mental health has increased so much with youth,” Quintino-Aranda said. “We think the need was always there, we just became more aware of the need after the pandemic.”
“Now that I’ve been implementing the program, the importance and the why is the feedback from the students…It’s awesome to see the impact from the students,” she added.
Students who participated and graduated from the class last spring received a T-shirt with the words, “I am not alone.” School staff reported that many of the students wore the T-shirt to school the following day.
"This course is also helping me personally because I am dealing with a mental health issue in my family, and I now feel more prepared with things to say and do and places to find more help," said a former Mental Health First Aid participant.
Another former participant said, “Before taking this course I had no idea how to approach someone who might be suicidal. I now feel confident that I can do this and direct them to the appropriate support services.”
In addition to the Kent County Teen Mental Health First Aid program, MSU Extension received a $1.55 million grant for from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs to provide school communities with training to counter the effects of youth mental health crisis and prevent or reduce instances of bullying.
Learn more about MSU Extension’s Mental Health First Aid Training.