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WVU faculty receive $500,000 grant to close the gap in youth access to mental health resources

In West Virginia, inequities in youth access to mental health services have been magnified by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and a statewide school counselor shortage. Research demonstrates that classroom teachers want to assist students who are experiencing mental health issues, but they do not always have the knowledge or resources to intervene.

To better equip West Virginia teachers and other school personnel to identify the signs and symptoms of mental health crises among students, Rawn Boulden, assistant professor, and Christine Schimmel, associate professor, of the School Counseling and Well-Being at West Virginia University, have received a five-year, $500,000 grant to provide Youth Mental Health First Aid Training in West Virginia schools.

“Teachers are on the front lines with students every day, so we want teachers to be more versed in the facts and myths around student mental health and mental health crises,” Schimmel said. “If we don’t have a school counselor in a school, we at least need to have a teacher who knows the signs, symptoms and strategies to stabilize a child in crisis and get that child to the resources they need.

The Mental Health Training Grant was awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to support community organizations and agencies that implement evidence-based programs to educate stakeholders and community leaders about mental health issues.

Boulden and Schimmel will use the grant to provide Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to 625 educators in West Virginia Public Schools. The training will teach the educators and other school personnel to recognize the signs that a student may be experiencing a mental health crisis and ultimately direct that student to the appropriate resources. Participants will receive a small professional development allowance to purchase mental health resources for their classrooms.

Selected individuals who complete the Youth Mental Health Training course will then be trained as instructors to continue providing the course and educating peers in their schools and communities. Those who become instructors will receive iPads to collect data on the number of students who have experienced mental health crises and received interventions.

“It’s one thing for us to go into a school and facilitate a training, but having an individual embedded in a school who can provide ongoing support, resources and service workshops helps to create a sustainable mental health culture in schools,” Boulden said. “We’re excited to provide this service to our schools and feel like we can do our part, in our neck of the woods, to help our teachers support their students.”

The grant will operate through September 2026.

Visit the Youth Mental Health First Aid website for more information and to request training.

This story was originally published on November 5, 2021.

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