Federal Grant Supports School and Community Youth Mental Health First Aid Training

Arlington Public Schools has been awarded a 4-year Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant (SAMHSA) of $249,728 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement Project Arlington Mental Health Initiative (AMHI). This initiative is designed to provide mental health awareness training to school personnel and members of the community such as emergency responders, law enforcement, fire department personnel, and others.The Arlington Youth Counseling Center (AYCC) and Cartwheel Care are partnering with the district in the project.   

The intent of Project AMHI is to train at least 1,000 school staff and community members in Mental Health First Aid so that they have a better understanding of how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. Additionally, this training will increase their mental health literacy, and reduce mental illness and substance use stigma. The training will be offered virtually, in-person, and blended in order to reach as many individuals as possible.

The Youth Mental Health First Aid course is designed for adults such as parents, family members and caregivers, teachers and school staff members, health and human services workers, and other community members who interface with youth such as emergency first responders,law enforcement, and fire department personnel. The focus is on how to recognize the warning signs of mental health problems in young people and get assistance for those who are experiencing mental health or substance use challenges, or are in crisis. The course covers the range of common mental health challenges for youth and includes a 5-step action plan. Attendees leave with the skills they need to reach out and provide initial support and direction to obtain appropriate care.

Julia Vitagliano, MPH, has been hired as the grant manager to get things underway. Two trainings for Arlington Public School employees will take place in November and December 2023 as well as two virtual training for community members in January 2024. As stated in the Surgeon General’s Youth Mental Health Advisory of 2021, “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the US with a reported mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.” Additionally, “...national surveys of youth have shown major increases in certain mental health symptoms,...” 

Project AMHI will increase the number of individuals in our schools and community who understand and recognize the mental health and substance use struggles in Arlington youth. This will enable earlier intervention which is associated with better health and educational outcomes. Ms. Vitagliano can be reached at [email protected].