Youth learn about mental health through Montana Extension program

Youth learn about mental health through Montana Extension program

Feelings of isolation, thoughts of suicide and other mental health challenges represent a growing public health crisis in rural areas. In Montana, which regularly is in the top five states for suicide rates annually, Montana State University Extension professionals became concerned as they witnessed marked decreases in the mental health of young people amid COVID-19 closures. A program previously developed to teach youth about mental health took on new importance and expanded.

The Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM), helps middle and high schoolers learn strategies for solving difficult life situations and coping with common stressors. Certified facilitators and assistants lead students in five, one-hour sessions that make use of active discussion and role play to teach important life skills.

After completing the YAM program, 79% of participants said they would ask school staff for help if they felt depressed. Participants also learned ways to support friends who may be struggling. One student said, “I learned that there is always someone there, and I won’t always be able to solve people’s problems, but I can be there to help and listen.”

Thirty-six people in Montana are certified YAM instructors; they teach the program in 30 schools and have reached more than 10,000 students since 2016. In 2022, Montana State University YAM leaders trained four Extension employees at University of Idaho, taking the program’s impact beyond state lines for the first time.

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