BOZEMAN — Montana State University Extension and Stone Child College in Box Elder, recently received a $1.28 million grant to develop mental health awareness campaigns on the Flathead and Rocky Boy’s Indian reservations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Children, Youth, Families at Risk (CYFAR) grant program funded the project, with its goal being to increase awareness of social, emotional and physical health in a holistic way in Indian Country. The program will provide classroom mental health awareness and technology instruction; after-school leadership group meetings; experimental learning through the development of technology and outreach with businesses and organizations in the community.

Four high schools — Rocky Boy, Box Elder, Ronan and St. Ignatius — will offer Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM) training, taught by MSU Extension professionals, to four groups of freshmen. Brenda Richey, Flathead Reservation Extension agent and a project site director for Ronan and St. Ignatius high schools, highlighted the importance of breaking down the mental health stigma.

“I believe that when we empower our youth with fact-based knowledge and give them a platform to share that knowledge with their peers, then we will start to see a decline in youth depression and suicides. That is the opportunity this CYFAR grant brings to the Flathead Reservation,” Richey said, who is also a YAM instructor.

As part of the program, students in technology clubs will work on developing several ventures, such as a phone app, an e-magazine with content relating to mental health, as well as design and create a logo and laser-cut tokens. The technology projects are tangible items that are meant to help engage the students with community members, organizations and businesses to increase awareness of mental health issues in their community. 4-H after-school groups will work with the technology students to facilitate extended outreach and engagement in their communities.

“The primary and most important aspect of this project is the connection between youth and the community,” said Stephanie Davison, MSU Extension associate specialist, project co-director and principal investigator on the grant. “Through a holistic approach using multiple methods, teens will learn both life and technical skills that will allow them to lead a community campaign to raise awareness of social, emotional and physical wellness, with an emphasis on mental health. By improving social, emotional and physical skills, at-risk youth will have improved coping skills, increased emotional intelligence and better ability to address and solve social problems."

YAM training will begin in September. For more information about the grant, contact Davison at sdavison@montana.edu or Mary Ruth St. Pierre, Stone Child College Extension agent, at mstpierre@stonechild.edu.

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