This district-wide grant will train over 300 Arlington Public Schools staff on Youth Mental Health First Aid, a program designed to teach anyone interfacing with youth how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or who is in crisis.

“When we create a common vision, language and understanding of how to promote the mental health and well-being of our youth, support services are more focused and effective.”

Sara Burd, Arlington Public Schools Director of Social & Emotional Health and Guidance

The Challenge: Keeping our Students Mentally Healthy

Our students’ mental health is critically important because it helps determine how they handle stress, relate to others and make choices. According to, “half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14” (i.e. anxiety and eating disorders), and three quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24 (i.e. substance abuse).

Recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveys at Arlington High School and the Ottoson Middle School show that mental health issues such as stress, low self-esteem, self-harm, sexual abuse and suicide contemplation/attempts are on the rise in our youth community.

How AEF Helped: Staff Training to Support our Youth

The Arlington Public Schools’ mission is to educate students holistically so that every child has the opportunity to achieve academic, emotional, social and vocational success. Attention to students’ mental health is one of the key elements to achieving this mission and is part of the district’s Safe & Supportive Schools Initiative.

AEF understands the relationship between behavioral health and school success, and committed to awarding the district $200,000 between 2017 and 2020 to support the district’s initiative.

As a first step, in 2017 a $100,485 AEF grant brought the Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) program to the district.

The Impact: Supporting Students, Reducing Referrals, Keeping Students in Class

By January 2019, over 300 staff – representing every school and every role from social workers to administrators – will have been trained on Youth Mental Health First Aid.

Youth Mental Health First Aid demystifies and de-stigmatizes youth mental health challenges and provides a basic understanding of what adolescent mental health looks like. During the training, participants gain confidence through role-play; responding to student needs by offering appropriate reassurance and guidance and obtaining skills in assessing risk of suicide or harm.

The program teaches how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or who is in crisis. Discussion includes mental health signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.

For staff working with grades three through twelve, the training covers types of support from early intervention to guiding a student toward treatment. With AEF’s support, Arlington’s teachers have the tools they need to support all students, reduce referrals and keep more students in the classroom.