Valley High School has been selected to participate in the first teen Mental Health First Aid pilot program from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and the National Council for Behavioral Health.
About 650 high school seniors from eight schools across the country will participate in the program.
“Young people are facing an urgent crisis,” said Maya Smith, executive director of the Born This Way Foundation. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. De-stigmatizing mental health is a huge part of it, and if there is a generation to rise to combating this issue, this generation is it. They are collaborative and strong, and they want to solve problems for friends and people around them.”
Smith said the program will be piloting through the spring and expanding into the fall. The launch of the program coincides with Lady Gaga’s residency in Las Vegas at Park Theater at Park MGM.
“It’s part of our mission to work with Las Vegas on teen Mental Health First Aid,” Smith said.
Valley High School Principal Ramona Esparza said students will be taught how to identify and respond to mental health or substance abuse problems among students. They also will be taught a five-step action plan to help someone who may be facing a mental health problem or crisis.
Smith said one highlight of the program is teaching students to involve a responsible adult in these mental health issues. She said the organization has trained five Valley staff members in Mental Health First Aid for Adults Working with Young People.
Esparza said Valley students will be trained during the school day, April 23-26.
Smith said the foundation was impressed with Esparza’s leadership and the work the school already has done with its “wellness center” to encourage students to seek help for mental and physical health.
Esparza said that at Valley, they believe in teaching “the whole child.” That includes giving students access to the campus wellness center, which provides dental and vision services, as well as group therapy and counseling sessions.
“In order to impact student achievement positively, you need to address socioeconomic learning,” Esparza said.
According to Esparza, 15 schools applied to be part of the Mental Health First Aid program. As part of the application process, the school had to identify its needs and explain how the school would benefit.
Esparza said Valley is different from other schools because it is made up of a majority of minority students who come from “high-trauma situations.”
She said she hopes the pilot program will help the school “continue its trajectory of addressing socioeconomic need among students.”