FORT LEE, N.J. — All of last week, tenth-grade students at Fort Lee High School were excused from their class studies to learn about the culturally omnipresent issue of mental health.

In groups classes learned critically important Mental Health First Aid (MFHA) training, which teaches attendants to recognize mental health crises in themselves or peers/family, and connect to services that can help manage these crises, often saving lives. The MFHA trainings have been administered by Bergen County-based mental healthcare provider CBH Care and Bergen County Division of Mental Health Services staff. 
 
Teen MHFA reduces stigma and teaches teens when it is necessary to involve a trusted adult. Students learn a five-step plan to help their friends who may be facing a mental health problem or crisis, such as suicide. Fort Lee High School being designated the location for the Bergen County pilot program follows legislation signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy requiring schools to incorporate mental health education into the state’s standard curriculum.

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Bergen County Division of Mental Health Services Director Michele Hart Loughin, Health Services MHFA Coordinator Stephanie Hartman and CBH Care Director of Development Nicole Chiarello were at the High School last week, leading trainings and fielding questions about mental illness and access to care.

“Teenage years are often the most emotionally turbulent of a person’s life, but they are also when signs of mental or behavioral health disorders may first manifest," said David Cuozzo, Student Assistance Counselor for Fort Lee Public Schools. "High School students are mature enough to understand the importance of proper mental healthcare, and I am glad that the Bergen County Division of Mental Health Services and CBH Care are taking the time to teach our students these critically important skills. Knowing that it is OK to ask for help is the most important step in getting on the path to mental wellness, whether that means getting over a rough but temporary depression, or managing a lifelong diagnosis. Our students, their peers, and even family members will benefit from this exposure to MFHA.”


 
This comprehensive training is the follow-up to a one-day MHFA training provided by CBH Care to over 100 tenth-grade students at Fort Lee High School in November, as part of Bergen County’s pilot program for teen Mental Health First Aid training. 
 
“It is my hope that in the near future, all High School students, and maybe students even younger, will receive comprehensive MFHA trainings, because we have evidence to show that they save lives, and help people get on a path to mental wellness,” said CBH Care Director of Development Nicole Chiarello. “I am thankful to Fort Lee High School for inviting us into their school to provide crucial mental health training to students, and excited the County is launching this pilot program, under the leadership of Michele Hart Loughlin, who is a great mental health advocate and made this all possible.”
 
Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and the National Council for Behavioral Health contributed funding for the Fort Lee High pilot program. Trainings will continue in late February and early March.