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Mental Health focus goes into full swing in three Utah districts

SALT LAKE CITY — For a long time, educators have had to look far beyond reading, writing and math, when looking at some of those fresh new faces that show up at their desks on the first day of school.  Among a growing list of concerns, mental health and well being.  It’s part of a focus on student and school safety that in three of Utah’s largest school district, will be funded by a federal grant announced late last fall.

A program known as AWARE, “Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education,” will enter its first full school-year in the Cache, Alpine and Jordan school districts. The program sets aside more than $8 million over the next five years to help teachers and others find students who are struggling and get them help.

“That can be teachers or parents or community members,”  says Christy Walker, Safe and Health Schools Coordinator for the Utah State Board of Education.

“Anyone who’s working with youth, to help them understand the signs of mental distress.”

Kim Meyer,  Suicide Prevention Administrator with the Utah Office of Human Resources, said they want students to understand there’s help out there. “We’re telling kids that if they’re having a problem, they need to come talk to us.  And that it’s okay to get help and it’s okay to be in treatment.”

But it goes beyond recognizing a problem.  Walker calls it mental health “first aid.”  She said there are resources available for professional help, to bridge the gap between what a school can normally offer, and other resources in the community.

Students in the Cache, Alpine and Jordan districts make up about a quarter of the state’s school population.