Howard County Public Schools trained 120 nurses and other health staff in Youth Mental Health First Aid ® in the last few months. These health professionals are now better prepared to recognize the risk factors and signs of mental health problems in youth and have additional resources to provide help.

Why school health professionals?

School health professionals are a particularly crucial audience to reach with Mental Health First Aid, according to Lea Ann Browning-McNee of the Mental Health Association of Maryland (MHAMD). “They are often the first to see patterns in students, to have discussions about both physical and emotional pain, and may feel like a ‘safe’ adult for a student to confide in.”

Donna Mazyck, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses agrees, told NPR last year that “School nurses are the detectives in that school. They’re the eyes and ears of public health.”

Youth Mental Health First Aid, an internationally-recognized certification, helps school health professionals expand their skill set – enhancing their hearing and vision so to speak, as participants learn to assess what they hear from a student and what changes they may see in a student’s behavior. In addition, the course focuses on what to do to help students, whether it’s simply serving as a supportive listener, helping a student learn strategies for managing stress or connecting a family to school or community-based evaluation, treatment or support services.

“Howard County Public Schools joins other districts, such as Charles and Harford County, who have also trained health staff,” says Jennifer Treger, director of the Mental Health First Aid Maryland program at MHAMD. “We are lucky that Maryland is part of a federal grant that supports training for educators and school health professionals, as well as coaches, administrators and others who engage with students.”

Teaching Youth Mental Health First Aid through the MD-AWARE program

MHAMD coordinates the school-based trainings in partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education’s MD-AWARE, part of the “Now Is the Time” federal grant program administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Mental Health First Aid training is available to schools and their partners across the state, and MHAMD is set to train another 100+ school health professionals in late summer as part of the state’s School Heath Interdisciplinary Program conference.

Kerrie Wagaman, RN, MSN, coordinator of health services for Howard County Public Schools, says “The Mental Health First Aid Course provided the staff of registered nurses and health assistants extra resources to continue keeping our students safe.”

More than 23,000 Marylanders are certified as Mental Health First Aiders. To learn how you can bring Youth Mental Health First Aid to your school, visit

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