Johnson County Mental Center offering free mental health education in schools across county

Tim DeWeese, director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center

The Johnson County Mental Health Center this week announced a new program to bring mental health education to all public and private schools in Johnson County.
Introduction of the digital resource, Mental Wellness Basics, is a direct result of efforts by the #ZeroReasonsWhy initiative, a collaboration of school districts in Johnson County to address the growing issue of teen suicide.

Starting this fall semester, the mental health center will be providing the program at no cost to schools.

Tim DeWeese, director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center, said an education component has been part of the strategic plan for the #ZeroReasonsWhy initiative.

“When they talked about committing to education, a few of the young people described how important they felt health was ever since they were in grade school — with taking P.E. and all of this — but there was really never a focus on mental health, and so their belief is that we need to make that physical health and mental health equal,” DeWeese said.

Developed by EVERFI Inc., the new course “introduces students to the experiences of others in order to develop awareness and empathy, reduce stigma and provide facts on the prevalence and symptoms of mental health conditions,” according to Johnson County Mental Health Center.

“At EVERFI, we’re compelled to address the growing need for mental health and alcohol abuse prevention education by providing scalable solutions that deliver essential skills to students,” said Jon Chapman, EVERFI co-founder and president of global partnerships. “We are proud to collaborate with Johnson County Mental Health Center to support health literacy for the future leaders of Kansas and beyond.”

The mental health center is also working with the Zero Reasons Why Teen Council to further drive course implementation in schools and raise awareness of the program across the county.

EVERFI Inc. has also been collaborating with the mental health center to address the issue of underage drinking.

The four-lesson session is targeted for grades 8-10. It is optional for schools to participate. DeWeese said the curriculum meets the National Health Education standards as well as the state academic health standards.

Mental Wellness Basics will cost roughly $100,000 a year. DeWeese said the Johnson County Mental Health Center is acquiring funding from grant opportunities to help cover costs of the program. It is currently funded for the next three years, he added.

“That’s one of the things that’s been beautiful about the school districts in coming together around #ZeroReasonsWhy: It’s brought the school districts and the mental health center together, and we can look for ways to partner and be more efficient with our resources. This is a way to make it available to everybody at the lowest cost possible.”

DeWeese said the Mental Wellness Basics course is intended to provide students with “the tools to overcome the hurdles and the barriers that they’re naturally going to experience in life, and maybe that can also help eliminate some of the mental health problems that are occurring.”

The center plans to track the data on the program — how many students get connected, how many sessions are completed, how many teachers and schools implement it — to see how the center can utilize it across all middle and high schools in Johnson County, DeWeese added.

“The community mental health system — and, really, the mental health system overall — is very much a reactive system,” DeWeese said. “My belief is that the future is for us to move upstream. What research tells us is that major mental illnesses and the devastating impacts of those illnesses are preventable.

“From my standpoint, this is one true way that we’ve started to move upstream to help be more preventative in nature. I think, in the long run, my hope is that we see kids becoming more resilient and we’re able to help them achieve their fullest educational potential.”