According to the World Health Organization (WHO), half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age, though most cases are undetected and untreated. And additionally, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for teens aged 13 to 18.
While those are alarming statistics, mega-star Lady Gaga is hoping to diminish those numbers.
The iconic singer’s Born This Way Foundation and the National Council for Behavioral Health announced the expansion of teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) – an initiative to identify, educate, and respond to mental illness, developing mental health issues, and substance abuse issues for high school students grades 10 to 12.
Teen Mental Health First Aid
Last week, the joint foundations announced the pilot program finished its course in eight high schools around the country and are slated to expand to an additional 20 high schools around the country this fall.
The program offers students a five-step action plan in order to teach them how to help others who may be dealing with mental issues, along with the best way to involve an adult. Johns Hopkins University will collect anonymized results from the pilot project to evaluate its success.
“Young people are often, surprise, surprise, not turning to an adult when they have a problem. They’re turning to a friend. So if we’re only preparing adults to deal with these situations, we’re just missing a huge piece of the puzzle,” Rachel Martin, deputy executive director of the Born This Way Foundation, said in an interview with Today.
While not only learning about signs of mental health issues, students also learn thing such as the “recovery position,” or how to ensure a friend who’s passed out due to drinking or drugs doesn’t accidentally choke until medics arrive. The program also incorporates education about the Good Samaritan law, which provides legal protection for someone helping a person who is in danger without fear of getting in trouble themselves.
“It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.”
“With teen Mental Health First Aid, we like to say, it’s okay to not be okay,” Gaga said at one of her shows. “Sometimes when life gives you a million reasons to not want to stay, you need just one person that looks at you, listens to you, helps you get help and validates how you feel. Together, Born This Way and the National Council have put this program in eight schools and soon it will be in 20 more. I know for certain that I’m not stopping here. I want the teen Mental Health First Aid program in every school in this country.”
Andrew Magness, a teacher at Valley High School in Las Vegas, Nevada detailed in an interview the benefits of the program not only for his students, but for himself as a teacher.
“To be honest, it was probably one of the most satisfying and toughest things I’ve done in education. I’ve been a teacher for 13 years at Valley the entire time, and the reason it was amazing was we didn’t know how students wouldn’t react. It was surprising how serious the kids took it, how thankful they were, how helpful they found it,” he said.
After the program, the teacher said he had at least one student approach him asking for help with a mental health issue. Dozens of others told him they wished they had learned the skills sooner in life.
“It Saved My Life.”
Originally founded in Australia in 2000, the program was brought to the U.S. in 2007 by the National Council for Behavioral Health. Since then, more than 1.6 million adults who work with young people — like teachers, community leaders and others — have been trained. However, now, the focus is to educate and help teens themselves with the help of Lady Gaga’s nonprofit, as well as a multitude of others.
Betsy Schwartz, vice president for public education and strategic initiatives at the National Council for Behavioral Health, oversees the program.
“The curricula has an action plan that’s very concrete that teaches the teens five things to remember,” she said.
- Look for warning signs.
- Ask their friend how they are.
- Listen up — teens learn how to really listen in a way that will really open the conversation.
- Connect with an adult.
- Recognize the importance of their friendship.
“I know what it means to have someone support me and understand what I’m going through, and every young person in the world should have someone to turn to when they’re hurting,” Lady Gaga said in a Facebook video. “It saved my life, and it will save theirs.”
As an advocate for mental health, Lady Gaga along with her mother has repeatedly been at the forefront of candidly discussing their own mental health issues. In fact, in a recent concert Gaga revealed her song, “Million Reasons,” was written about her battle with PTSD. Additionally, during her acceptance speech at the 2019 Grammys, Gaga opened up about the importance of supporting one another through mental health.
Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation was co-founded in 2011 by the singer and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta.