Johnson County Mental Health Center awarded federal grant to establish Supporting Adolescent Mental Health project

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Over the past decade, there have been alarming increases in the prevalence of mental health challenges in young people, which has been worsened by the pandemic.

To build a community of helpers to support the mental health needs of adolescents in Olathe, Johnson County Mental Health Center has been awarded a federal grant to provide mental health awareness training to school personnel, first responders, and teenaged peers.

The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners voted last Thursday to accept the $495,779 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“These grant funds will be extremely helpful in supporting the mental health needs of young people in our community,” said Chairman Mike Kelly. “This is another tool Johnson County and its community partners can use to promote the safety and well-being of all generations in our community.”

The grant will support a four-year project aimed at providing early interventions for adolescents in Olathe that can help reduce the severity of mental health symptoms, delay the onset of mental illnesses, or prevent mental illnesses altogether.

Johnson County Mental Health Center will partner with Olathe Public Schools, Kansas School for the Deaf, Olathe Police Department, and Olathe Fire Department to train 4,000 school staff, first responders, and students in Mental Health First Aid. 50 people will also be provided with Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).

“50% of mental illnesses begin by age 14, but the average gap between the onset of symptoms and the start of treatment for a mental illness is 11 years,” said Shana Burgess, Director of Prevention Services and Community Relations for Johnson County Mental Health Center, “Giving these adults and peers the tools they need to appropriately and safely respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders will help our community connect adolescents to support, resources, and appropriate care as early as possible.”

According to the Kansas Communities That Care (KCTC) Student Survey, 26% of eighth grade students and 31% of 12th grade students in Olathe Public Schools reported persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness that affected their daily lives. School staff are often first to recognize a student struggling with their mental health, but many feel unprepared to provide support.

“We are so excited about the training that many of our staff members will receive because of this generous grant,” Olathe Public Schools Director of Mental Health Services Angie Salava said. “At Olathe Public Schools, one of our strategic plan goals is that every student will benefit from an educational experience that fosters their behavioral, social and emotional development. With this training, we will be able to better support the mental health needs of our students so that they can thrive in their learning.”

Mental health awareness training provided by the project will add to the mental health training already provided to police officers in Olathe, which includes Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and Mental Health First Aid training. Olathe Police Department estimates the number of calls involving a mental health concern have quadrupled over the past decade, while Olathe Fire Department has responded to 1,718 incidents involving overdoses, suicides, or other mental health concerns over the past three years.

“We are grateful the Johnson County Mental Health Center has received this grant,” said Sgt. Joel Yeldell of the Olathe Police Department, “Early intervention and interagency cooperation continue to be critical for adolescent mental health. We are excited to increase our well-established, innovative programs and further the great partnerships we have with Johnson County Mental Health Center and others in assisting those in need.”

“Grants like this one have a direct and positive impact on the community as a whole,” said Captain Mike Hall of the Olathe Fire Department, “Having the ability to appropriately help people when they need it is so powerful and should never be overlooked. We are excited to be a part of this partnership and project.”

In addition to providing Mental Health First Aid and ASIST training, the project will create printed and electronic materials to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and build awareness of mental health resources and supports. Two teen-led organizations, Zero Reasons Why and Olathe Teen Council, will help create the materials and deliver the messaging to their peers.

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