Sophomores resume teen Mental Health First Aid training


Caroline Ragland

Sophomore Brett Rose is in the first rotation of the Teen Mental Health Program. “The course is designed so you know how to help other people if they’re experiencing mental health issues,” Rose said. “It is learning the signs of depression, anxiety, things that will cause them to harm themselves and actions that will help them.”

Canyon High sophomores resumed the teen Mental Health First Aid, established by the National Council for Behavioral Health, training program Wednesday, Sept. 2. 

Beginning last year, sophomores undergo a six-week training program in their homeroom classes which aims to provide students with skills to prevent mental health crises. Each Wednesday, the CISD Student and Family Advocates will be on campus to teach the students a five-step plan to help others.

“Each week has a different topic, but they’re all mental health-based,” Family Student Advocate Mackenzie Ellis said. “We progress to talking about the action plan. The steps are Look, Ask, Listen and Help Your Friend.  It teaches students to look for warning signs within themselves and among their peers.”

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, one in five students are currently struggling with a mental health problem. Ellis said the program has seen some benefits in Canyon High.

“When you’re talking about mental health and substance abuse, it can be really heavy, and we know some students are coming in already struggling with that,” Ellis said. “Having some of those small conversations will open doors to big progress. There were students I talked to last year who were concerned about their own mental health or others, and I think having that conversation is a big part of this change.”

Student and Family Advocate Councilors, also known as #Portable7, received special training to help with the implementation of the program at the high school level to on-campus learners. 

“Unfortunately, we are not able to provide the program to students who are purely virtual right now,” Ellis said. “Because this is a national certification, we have not been allowed to provide it virtually for copyright reasons. We hope to one day bring the program to virtual students as well.”

#Portable7 members are working to expand the program district-wide.

“Right now, it’s more of a logistical reason that this program is only at one high school,” Ellis said. “We know that we, as Student and Family Advocates, cannot break up this training to both campuses into that six weeks. We would love to take this program to the north side, both Randall and the new high school, West Plains, but we don’t know what that looks like quite yet.”

Several modifications have been made to the program to align with both CDC and CISD COVID-19 regulations, including training and an additional two instructors, bringing the total number of #Portable7 members to five.

We want students to truly and genuinely listen when trying to provide that mental health first aid.

— Mackenzie Ellis, Family Student Advocate

“Being able to have more instructors will enable us to not have as many students in the classroom for safety reasons,” Ellis said. “It will help with social distancing and sanitizing. We’re happy to be able to keep this program and keep students safe.”

In addition to teaching the program, #Portable7 members provide resources and counseling to families and students who are struggling or affected by mental health issues.

“Being a teenager is hard, and I think that it’s something many students can all agree with,” Ellis said. “Sometimes, there are times where students go through a little more extra stuff. Having the courage to ask a peer about how they’re doing is an important part of the program. We want students to truly and genuinely listen when trying to provide that mental health first aid.”

Sophomore Daniel Bliss is currently in the first round of the program.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students in Canyon to be proactive about their mental health,” Bliss said. “I feel like a lot of people really need to hear this, especially students. With COVID–over the past quarantine–a lot of people were struggling with mental health issues. This allows us to look back into that.”

Bliss said he looks forward to seeing how the program will work further down the line. 

“I feel like it’s going to help a lot of students be able to deal with mental health issues in the future,” Bliss said. “They’re teaching us signs of mental health crisis and different mental health problems that a lot of students face. I think it could change the culture of the school in terms of how we view mental health.”