County Sponsors Partnership for Teen "Mental Health First Aid"

June 28, 2021


SAN JOSE Santa Clara County’s collection of youth mental health services will soon get an exciting new addition thanks to a burgeoning partnership between the County and two nonprofit organizations, Project Safety Net and Momentum for Health.

County Supervisor Joe Simitian proposed the partnership, which aims to implement a Mental Health First Aid pilot program for high school students in the North County and West Valley. The County Board of Supervisors approved $250,000 in initial funding for the proposal last month as part of its Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget.

“We know the past year has been especially tough on young people,” said Simitian. “But there has long been a need for greater mental health services for youth in our County. This program should provide one more tool teens can use to improve their own wellbeing and help others in need as well.”

“Mental Health First Aid” (MHFA) is a training course that teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health concerns, mental illnesses and substance use disorders like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and addictions.

Participants learn about local mental health resources, support groups and online tools, and gain the skills needed to reach out and provide help to someone who is experiencing a crisis or may be developing a mental health or substance use problem.

Though the National Council for Mental Wellbeing brought MHFA training to the United States more than a decade ago, the programs initially focused on adults and those who worked directly with youth rather than youth themselves. In 2019, however, the Council piloted a teen MHFA program in partnership with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to bring the program to high schools across the country. High schools in Livermore, Northridge, and Marysville were the only California sites initially selected.

But the demand for peer-to-peer support services in Santa Clara County has been growing for some time, said Mary Gloner, Chief Executive Officer of Palo Alto-based Project Safety Net. “Since I joined Project Safety Net five years ago, I have heard repeatedly from young people that they would like to be better prepared to help their friends and classmates when dealing with a mental health issue,” said Gloner.

“Peer support is especially important during teenage years,” said Meghna Singh, a 2019 graduate of Gunn High School and Project Safety Net Board of Directors Vice Chair. “Young people turn to their friends to share exciting moments, but also vent about the tough times, especially as they relate to mental health issues. After the second suicide cluster in our community, I was desperate to learn how I could support my classmates who were struggling with their mental health, so that we would not lose another student to suicide. Through researching online and talking to professionals, I was able to piece together how young people can support their own mental health and their peers’, but I wish that these resources were more accessible for youth.”

“For this reason and so many more, I’m beyond ecstatic to hear about the implementation of the Youth Mental Health Training for Teens! It’s imperative to learn about the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use issues and how to connect their peers to support, which is exactly what this training will offer,” added Singh.

David K. Mineta, President and CEO of Momentum for Health, said young people in Santa Clara County are especially in need of mental health support due to high-pressure school and home environments, as well as a lack of access to on-campus support systems, conditions that have only been further exacerbated during the pandemic.

“Over the past year, we have seen an acute increase in the number of youth who need mental health services due to isolation, stress and anxiety brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mineta. “As we begin to reclaim a bit of normalcy, mental health programs and services must be in place. They’re essential to the well-being and future success of local youth.”

Data from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing demonstrates that the need for youth mental health support and early intervention extends nationwide. In the U.S. alone:

  • 1 in 5 teens has had a serious mental health disorder at some point in their life;
  • 50% of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, and 75% by the mid-20s; and
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15-24 year-olds.

And the CDC reports that mental health-related emergency room visits increased by 31% between April and October of 2020 for youth ages 12 to 17.

“Using Project Safety Net’s connections and Momentum’s experience and success with implementing and evaluating a Mental Health First Aid Training program, this collaborative effort has the potential to act as the catalyst to reduce emergency room and hospital visits for mental health care as well as provide young adults with the education and knowledge needed to take care of their own mental health and those around them,” said Mineta.

"Teen Mental Health First Aid is so valuable because it teaches students and young people to recognize and respond to signs. Especially because it's not always easy to reach out to adults. Having friends to support each other would be awesome," added Hannah Zhang, a rising Senior at Gunn High School.

The pilot effort plans to involve the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, the Fremont Union High School District, and the Palo Alto Unified School District. But Gloner said she hopes the program can expand to the rest of the County once other communities see the positive impact of the pilot.

Training will also be provided to parents, guardians and educators.

The new program was announced just as the County is celebrating the opening of “allcove” mental health centers for youth in Palo Alto and San Jose. Simitian brought a proposal to fund the allcoveprogram, formerly called “headspace”, to the Board of Supervisors in June 2016. The two sites opened on June 25, 2021 and aim to provide integrated mental health, physical health, and social services for youth ages 12-25.



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