Santa Maria schools are getting ready to launch a new district-wide mental health training program that makes teachers and students capable of identifying someone in need.
The program through Transitions Mental Health Association has seen success at San Luis Obispo High School, and district leaders in Santa Maria hope it can help their kids.
"We’ve had a number of events with parents, staff and students where it’s more prevalent now, mental health challenges people go through,"
San Luis Obispo High School Counselor Shelley Benson said. "So it’s something we wanted to address."
All of the teachers at the high school were trained last year, along with 35 students, according to Benson.
"It gave our staff a common language and helped them know how to approach difficult topics like suicide, anxiety and depression with students," Benson said.
Transitions Mental Health Association trains teachers and students to understand the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders.
"It’s all about how do you have the difficult conversation," TMHA Development Director Michael Kaplan said. "How do you ask ‘are they struggling or contemplating suicide’ and taking that difficult step of linking them up with someone on campus who can maybe provide help."
Kaplan said he applied for a grant to expand TMHA training to additional districts, so he reached out to Santa Maria educators with a proposal.
"There was clearly a need," Kaplan said. "I opened the door a little bit and they blew the door open completely and said ‘please come down, it’s really time and we want this.’"
The training does not eliminate the need for a school counselor, according to Kaplan, nor does it serve the same purpose as a school counselor. Rather, the program expands resources for students and staff in need of help.
The grant-funded program is just weeks away from launching in Santa Maria, where a recent Santa Barbara County survey of students found kids do need help.
Countywide, 28 percent of students surveyed reported feeling seriously depressed. Nearly 17 percent of 7th, 9th and 11th graders said they’ve considered suicide.
"We wanted to make sure kids know there are people are here that can help them and all of our staff – not just one trained person – can help them," Benson said. "That’s why teachers go into teaching."