MSU Extension receives $1.55M grant to support student mental health and STOP school violence

A $1.55 million grant from the Office of Justice Programs will help MSU Extension provide school communities with training to counter the effects of youth mental health crisis and prevent or reduce instances of bullying.

A female student sits in the hallway with her back to the lockers and studies while other students walk past her.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension has received a three-year, $1.55 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs to reduce school violence by providing adults and youth in school communities with training to counter the effects of youth mental health crisis and prevent or reduce instances of bullying.

“Many schools and communities may not be aware of the resources available to help youth dealing with issues of anger, depression, isolation, fear, substance use and other mental health challenges,” said Frank Cox, MSU Extension educator based in Muskegon County and principal investigator for the grant. “Unaddressed, these issues might lead a young person to turn to an act of violence against themselves or others, simply to be seen and heard.”

Through the Bringing Mental Health First Aid to Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence grant, MSU Extension will partner with the National Center for School Safety (NCSS) to build a statewide, community-based infrastructure of Mental Health First Aid responders to help combat the challenges of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges young people face.

Located at the University of Michigan and co-directed by Dr. Marc Zimmerman and Dr. Justin Heinze, the NCSS is focused on improving school safety and preventing school violence. It has a suite of trainings and resources available to school communities nationwide.

“We are delighted to be working with local schools and our MSU Extension colleagues to help improve mental health among children and adolescents in our state. This is the kind of collaboration across institutions and practitioners that is necessary if we want to keep schools safe and increase early detection of mental health concerns before they become bigger issues," says Dr. Zimmerman, who is also the Marshall H. Becker Collegiate Professor of Public Health and co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention at the University of Michigan. 

Through the project, MSU Extension educators and NCSS will train 1,200 tenth and eleventh grade students and 120 school professionals from eight Michigan school communities to become mental health first aiders who recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis. Through the grant, youth and educators will be taught to help youth decompress and take the steps to get the mental health and crisis support they need, with the long-term goal to reduce incidents of school violence.

To carry out this work, the youth and teen Mental Health First Aid training curricula will be introduced. Mental Health First Aid is an international, evidence-based training that teaches participants how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis and help someone who may be experiencing one. Grounded in messages of hope and recovery, this program helps break down the misinformation surrounding mental health and helps trainees understand how they can play a role in the “first response” to mental health issues.

“Professionals and peers are trained to intercede or seek appropriate help and support that can help address and decrease the impacts of youth in mental health crisis and hopefully mitigate a response that results in no harm to self and/or to others,” Cox explained.

The Youth and Teen Mental Health First Aid curricula uses the ALGEE plan to help those in need by: Assessing for risk of suicide or harm, Listening nonjudgmentally, Giving reassurance and information, Encouraging appropriate professional help, and Encouraging self-help and other support strategies.

This grant will serve Michigan high schools in Genesee, Macomb, Mason, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. The school partners represent geographic, racial, ethnic and economic diversity and provide the opportunity to reach students from rural, suburban and urban communities.

“By building this informed community network of peers and adults who are trained to recognize signs of risk caused by mental health distress and provide timely action and support, youth can get the help they need when they need it,” says Kea Norrell-Aitch, MSU Extension educator based in Macomb County and co-principal investigator for the grant.

Along with Cox and Norrell-Aitch, the MSU Extension team of professionally-certified Mental Health First Aid staff members include MSU Extension educators Janelle Stewart (Lenawee County) and Brian Wibby (Alger County). Three additional MSU Extension staff members will also be hired to support the program across the state.

In addition to providing training, the MSU Extension team will work with the partner school districts to:

  • Recruit and provide support to engage a professional Mental Health Support Team for each of the partner schools that includes a licensed clinical psychologist, the school resource officer and a social worker.
  • Provide support for partner schools to host school-based community youth mental health wellness summits to grow community-wide awareness of mental health issues young people face.
  • Launch a statewide youth mental health well-being summit to share teen and adult mental health knowledge, professional expertise and research on youth mental health challenges and opportunities.
  • Support the partner school communities in developing a Mental Health First Aid community action and sustainability plan and manual.
  • Train mental health first aiders in each partner school to extend their school-based mental health wellness supports using additional curriculum determined by the MSU Extension team.
  • Engage an independent researcher to assess the impact of training.

Heather Murphy, a licensed professional counselor and nationally certified counselor with a master’s degree in counseling psychology, is the NCSS School Safety Specialist providing direct technical assistance for MSU Extension's STOP grant project. Murphy says, "I'm excited to see MSU Extension working alongside Michigan schools to provide education and training to staff and youth to bolster mental health awareness in schools. I look forward to seeing the impact this will have on the mental wellness of students, educators and school communities."

Since 2017, MSU Extension has been offering Mental Health First Aid training to both its own staff and external organizations. As of 2022, approximately 450 MSU Extension staff members and over 1,000 Michigan residents have been trained in Mental Health First Aid by the MSU Extension team. Learn more about MSU Extension’s Mental Health First Aid Training.

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