Gov. Phil Murphy on Feb. 11 announced new initiatives through schools and institutions of higher education to support youth mental health. The announcement was made at Maple Shade High School.

The state Department of Human Services will work in partnership with the National Council of Behavioral Health  to conduct statewide “Mental Health First Aid” trainings for school personnel from K-12 and higher education institutions.

The New Jersey Department of Education will lead a statewide youth mental health working group that will develop resources, including best practices for school and mental health provider connections to support student needs, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The administration’s initiatives are a response to a challenging reality: one in five Americans have a mental illness and many are reluctant to reach out for help or do not know where to get help. Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds, and more than one in four students report feeling persistently sad or hopeless, the governor’s office said.

“Governor Murphy’s initiative mirrors many of the recommendations of the final report of NJSBA’s Task Force on Mental Health Service in the Public Schools, which promoted staff training and best practices,” Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA’s executive director.

“We are also pleased that the announcement was made in the Maple Shade school district, which has successful student mental health initiatives. NJSBA President Mike McClure serves as president of the Maple Shade Board of Education. His leadership and encouragement were instrumental in NJSBA’s own mental health services project.”

The NJSBA released a task force report in October, documenting the need for improved mental health services in the public schools. The report, “Building a Foundation for Hope,” can be found here.

“Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, but as a society we are often unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms of mental illness,” said Murphy. “With improved training for school and higher education personnel and better opportunities for school and provider connections, we can better address and support the mental health needs of our young people. We are committed to ensuring that our residents have access to the resources they need to thrive and succeed in life.”

The statewide Mental Health First Aid Training, in partnership with the National Council of Behavioral Health, will provide every New Jersey public school district, charter or renaissance school, approved private school for students with disabilities (APSSD), and higher education institutions the opportunity to send at least one staff person to an intensive training to become a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor. The New Jersey Department of Human Services will host statewide training sessions for school and higher education personnel to become certified through Mental Health First Aid’s “train the trainer” model.

Participants will learn the risk factors and warning signs of youth mental health issues and be able to connect students to the appropriate resources and supports from community behavioral health providers. Some $6 million in funding for the trainings is supported by $100 million in opioid funding through Fiscal Year 2020 budget, according to the governor’s office.

The governor’s press release, announcing the initiative, can be found here.