What is tMHFA?


The Teen manual used for instructing the tMHFA program. Taken on Tuesday, Jan. 24 during the first session of teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA). Photo by Hannah Brewster.

Eliana Kaufman, Staff Writer

In recent weeks, sophomore students have been pulled out of class to attend Teen Mental Health First Aid Training, or tMHFA. This program was originally created in Australia in 2001 by Betty Kitchener, a nurse specializing in health education, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor.

Recently, the Jana Marie Foundation received funding to use for a mental health program in the area. Hannah Brewster is an office manager for the Jana Marie Foundation who helped start the program at State High.

“Jana Marie Foundation came into some grant funding. It was a PCCD grant. And so we had funding for some kind of mental health programing and had been running teen mental health at another district, Bald Eagle Area School District, really liked the program, saw positive responses from staff and after talking with the State High administration, figured that that would be a good program to offer for students there as well,” Brewster stated.

“A PCCD grant,” she added, “is a sum of money that was issued by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, specifically for mental health education.”

TMHFA is an evidence-based program that has been researched and proven to be effective at reducing distress and lowering the stigma of mental health. 

The program is available for students in grades 10-12. The available grades were set by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, the organization that created the program, and those are the only grades tMHFA has been studied in. Out of those grades, students in 10th grade were chosen because they will be in school for the longest and will leave the greatest impact on their peers.

“[It’s] really a way for students to be able to help their friends get to help. So it teaches students how to recognize signs of a developing mental health challenge but does not require them to treat their friends. We don’t expect them to be counselors or anything like that,” Brewster explained. “But it does bring some mental health literacy, raises awareness about what is typical behavior, what is atypical and might need some further attention, and it gives teens action steps to be able to take. In the same way that people don’t learn CPR in order to be doctors … [we are] able to give students concrete actions that they can take, to potentially save a life in some cases.” 

Ms. Burnham is a State High Counselor for 10-12th grade with last names A-CL who had a similar take.

“I’m equating it to when students get trained in CPR, so when something happens they know how to react, so this is very similar to that, you know, ‘my friend’s in crises, I’m in crises, I know what to do to help somebody get the support that they need,” Ms. Burnham said.

9th grade counselor Ms. Brown not only agreed with Ms. Burnham, but also built more on the takeaways of tMHFA.

“It’s interesting that different things are being, are sticking out to different people, so I feel like when Ms. Burnham said that we are hoping we are sharing the importance of mental health but also how young people can help each other because, young people’s world is each other,” Ms. Brown explained. “So, it’s very nice to see on the ticket the takeaways. It’s not always the same takeaway. It’s something different from each person so they’re finding value in the different units that are being taught, the different lessons,” she added. 

Jana Marie planned and organized the set-up of tMHFA at State High.

“Jana Marie foundation has a long partnership with State College School district and State College High School,” Ms. Brown stated. “So we know that they do great work for our community and for our students and so when they received the grant and reached out to the high school,” she said. 

Of course, there were barriers to overcome when implementing the program into SCAHS and student’s lives.

“The hardest part about the course itself I’d say is the logistics side of things, so actually scheduling. Because it’s a universal program, it has to be offered to an entire grade level, which at a smaller school district is less of a challenge,” Brewster stated. 

The program might not be a one time thing. This year was the first time the tMHFA program was incorporated into students’ lives, so there are still changes to be made in the program.  

“[I plan to] have some meetings afterwards and find out what went well, and what could be changed and improved. I think we would want to include students in those meetings and find out right from them[…] I would want to know what do students need to know earlier or more clear. I would really wanna get the students feedback from that, so that if we do it again we can make it even better,” Ms. Brown said. 

Brewster said that they were thankful to State High’s administration, counseling department and teachers’ flexibility so that Jana Marie is able to offer tMHFA to an entire grade level. Ms. Brown said that she was thankful for the opportunity that Jana Marie is giving to State High students. She is also thankful for the time Jana Marie took to write their grant and reach out to local schools.