HACKENSACK, NJ – Bergen County's Division of Mental Health Services (DMHS) has been named a national pilot site for teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) training. 

Bergen County is the only location in New Jersey and one of 35 sites across the country to be selected to participate in this pilot project. The year-long in-person training teaches high school students about common mental health challenges and will equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to foster their own wellness and to support and help others as they grow. 

This initiative comes at a pivotal time given NJ Governor Phil Murphy’s new law requiring schools to incorporate mental health education into the state’s standard curriculum. tMHFA is an evidence based model which schools may use to fulfill the Governor’s mandate. The tMHFA pilot project has been launched in Fort Lee High School. 

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The County Executive and Freeholders extend their sincere thanks to the Superintendent of Fort Lee Schools, Ken Rota, and the Fort Lee High School staff who worked collaboratively with the DMHS to make this project possible. To be eligible for the pilot, 10 percent of school staff must have been certified in youth mental health first aid – Fort Lee far exceeds that number. 

“Congratulations to Fort Lee High School for recognizing the importance of mental health and taking the initiative to help children in need,” said County Executive Tedesco.  “Bergen County is the only County in New Jersey to declare itself Stigma-Free. Now that all 70 municipalities have taken steps to address mental health awareness, it is important that we start teaching our children about mental health first aid so they can lead happier, healthier lives.  I want to thank Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and the National Council for Behavioral Health for this funding and their willingness to work with Fort Lee High School on this important teen mental health first aid initiative.”

“Losing a single child to suicide, is one child too many,” said Freeholder Pro Tempore Joan Voss. “I spent my career as a teacher here at Fort Lee High School and this institution is in my blood. I am proud but not surprised that this wonderful institution which I still think of as home is the only school in New Jersey to qualify for this important teen mental health initiative. Thank You to the National Council for Behavioral Health and the Born this Way Foundation for putting real action behind their words.”

tMHFA is an in-person training for high school students in grades 10 to 12 to learn about mental illnesses, including how to identify and respond to a developing mental health or substance use problem among their peers. Similar to CPR, students learn a 5-step action plan to help their friends who may be facing a mental health problem or crisis, such as suicide, and highlights the important step of involving a responsible and trusted adult.

Addressing the mental health needs of teens is critically important. Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and three-quarters by the mid-20s. Left unaddressed, mental health issues can lead to serious consequences for a young person’s well-being, including increased risk of dropping out of school or experiencing homelessness. Tragically, suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds.

More schools are recognizing they have a lifesaving role to play and are training school staff to help students with Youth Mental Health First Aid, an adult-to-adolescent program. While this is an important step, research has shown that many adolescents turn to peers for support, making programs like tMHFA that prepare youth themselves for these situations critically important.

Overseen by the National Council for Behavioral Health and supported by Born This Way Foundation, tMHFA is an evidence-based response to the mental health challenges encountered by one in five American teens.