ALBANY, OR (KPTV) - South Albany High School students are taking part in a nationwide pilot project on “mental health first aid.”

Sophomores are learning how to spot the signs of struggle.

“The basic idea is to have students themselves known what to look for in mental health problems and mental health crises, and also what to do when their friends are struggling,” said Jill Baker, a counselor at South Albany High School.

The class of 2021 at South Albany is the only class in Oregon selected to take part in this pilot program, which is funded through the Born This Way Foundation. The foundation teaches teens to be more mindful and open about mental health.

“They basically told us that it was OK to not be OK, and that we’re allowed to have these feelings,” said sophomore Quinn Brown.

Brown said the program is providing them with new information about how to help friends who are having a difficult time.

“A lot of my friends who do struggle with this, they kind of shut themselves out. Like they cut off all their friends and they stop talking to me,” he said.

In classes, students learn a five-step action plan to help friends who may be having mental health problems or a crisis. It also includes when to tell an adult.

Baker said a “code of secrecy” is very prevalent among teens. South Albany has four full-time counselors and two therapists who come in from outside the school, but they still want to reach students in need sooner.

“I like to say it’s a game of whack-a-mole. There’s always a fire to put out and so if we’re doing this well, we have to back up and catch kids sooner and get them help,” Baker said.

Students say they are taking these lessons to heart.

“I do have friends with depression and very rough home lives, so I’ve tried my best to help them already, and this class has actually given me some tips and resources to do even better than I could before,” said sophomore Zach Geiger.

As part of FOX 12’s Better Together initiative, we are joining newsrooms across the state to raise awareness about Oregon’s suicide crisis. For more about Breaking the Silence, go to breakingthesilenceor.com.

Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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