Feb 21, 2024 RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery Brings Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to Toms River Regional School District

Ocean County, N.J. (February 21, 2024) – Youth in our community are experiencing rising challenges to their mental health, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. To address this growing mental health crisis in our community, the RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery (IFPR) recently trained over 90 teachers and staff at Toms River Regional School District’s three high schools, Toms River North, South, and East, in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA).

A team of staff leaders from the district—teachers Jennifer Huey, Alecia Olszewski, Michelle Minelli and social worker Danielle Burtchell—participated in the training earlier this year and, through their leadership, recommended bringing the expanded training to the high schools. Through the YMHFA training, teachers and staff will learn to identify signs of mental health and substance use challenges in youth and provide appropriate community referrals.

YMHFA is a three-year certification through the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. Now certified, Toms River Regional School District’s teachers and staff will join the nearly three million people nationwide who are trained in Mental Health First Aid. Mental Health First Aid prepares participants with non-clinical skill to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Mental Health First Aiders learn a 5-step Action Plan that guides them through the process of reaching out and offering appropriate support.

“Our youth are facing a tremendous mental health crisis nationwide, making access to mental health resources vital,” said Connie Greene, Senior Vice President, RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery. “By participating in Youth Mental Health First Aid training, Toms River Regional School District is taking a proactive approach to addressing this growing need.”

In addition to this YMHFA training, IFPR and Toms River Regional School District plan to bring teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) to all 10th grade students across the three high schools in fall 2024. Once complete, nearly 1,500 Toms River 10th grade students would be trained to recognize mental health challenges in their peers, provide peer support, and build awareness alongside trained adults in their schools.

"This is an awesome opportunity for us to provide teens with the appropriate education needed to recognize signs of distress in their peers and to direct them to trusted adults who can gain them quick access to resources,” said Toms River Regional Schools Assistant Superintendent Cara DiMeo. “Teen Mental Health First Aid is a great supplement to instruction that students receive in our health classes.”

IFPR is able to bring YMHFA and tMHFA training to communities throughout Ocean County through the Mental Health Awareness Training grant— $600,000 over three years—awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). IFPR was the only organization in the state to be awarded this grant in 2023.

If you are interested in scheduling YMHFA training, please contact Brian Preiser, MHAT Manager, at brian.preiser@rwjbh.org.

About the Institute for Prevention and Recovery

The RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery (IFPR) is a leader in creating the systems and services necessary to improve the health of communities throughout New Jersey. For over 30 years, IFPR has provided substance use disorder prevention programs, nicotine and tobacco treatment and innovative recovery support and social care services, taking a system change approach to address social determinants of health and enhance care delivery systems throughout RWJBarnabas Health and New Jersey.

IFPR is one of the largest providers of hospital-based recovery support services in the United States and the largest provider of free tobacco and nicotine treatment services in New Jersey.