NewsBack to School 2023


New learning: Olathe educators trained in mental health first aid

Posted: 1:59 PM, Aug 08, 2023
Updated: 2023-08-08 19:58:09-04
Olathe Public Schools mental health training

OLATHE, Kan. — Before Olathe students take their seats, district educators are in session.

Over 200 educators volunteered over the summer to receive training in mental health first aid from Johnson County.

“They need to want to do this,” said Angie Salava, director of mental health for Olathe Public Schools.

The training was made possible through a grant.

Supporting students

Those who volunteered told KSHB 41's Megan Abundis they were quick to agree to give up some of their break so they can better support students.

“You’re taught about what to do if you suspect somebody is in a mental health crisis or has a mental health disorder," Salava said. "It talks about things you can say, how to listen and how to connect them to help. It is so hard to work with kids who are in pain and to know that pain keeps them from being their absolute best.”

When explaining the significance of the training, Salava asked Abundis to imagine a student and a wheel.

“A student in a mental health crisis — they just keep going, going, going," Salava said. "And they are not getting off, they are trying to fight their way through — but not making any progress."

While educators have been privy to the struggles students face for years, Salava said society is finally starting to recognize the intense trauma some kids experience.

“Today, our students experience suicidal ideation, trauma based off homelessness or food insecurity, a lot of anxiety about their safety or going to school or going out in public," Salava said.

During a mental health episode, teachers are often the first to respond and report a student to be in mental distress, according to Salava.

“A lot of times, it can come up as anxiety where a student might be anxious about an assignment, attending a certain class or attending an activity," Salava said. "A student could also show pervasive symptoms of sadness, moodiness — being really happy one moment to really mad."

Making a difference

Behavior coach Sarah Vandeberghe, who works for Olathe Public Schools, said mental health training helps educators better notice and respond to the signs a student needs help.

“We have so many students we have to reach on so many different levels throughout the day, this is something that needs to not be overlooked,” Vandeberghe said. “It has to be at the forefront. If you don’t have a good state of mind, the rest of school kind of goes to the side.”

Last year, Salva said the district had 500 referrals for mental health services, sometimes three a day.

From 2019 to 2023, the district reports the number of times the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale, which helps determine if a student is at risk for suicide, was used decreased by nearly 40%.

“Our strengths and difficulties score improved in every area, so we know what we are doing makes a difference,” Salava said.

Olathe Public Schools believes the decrease is a direct result of the district's commitment to preventative mental health care and crisis intervention.

“It’s hard, in the moment, but you know it’s worth it in the end,” Salava said.

Educators are prioritizing conversations in the classroom about mental health to show students they are safe and can be vulnerable without worrying about the stigma surrounding the topic.

However, mental health exists outside of school. When it comes to home life and how parents can support students, Salva said families must make time and space for conversations.

District resources

The district offers a free help clinic during the school year from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. During the summer, hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The clinic is free for Olathe Public Schools families, students and staff, and parents are involved in every aspect.

Additionally, the district partners with community providers and contracted therapists who come into schools and work with students.

When a family is unable to pay, the Olathe Public Schools Foundation steps in so no student goes without help. The district said $200,000 was spent on services last year.

Olathe Public Schools' next step of the program includes training students in mental health first aid.

Johnson County will train some Olathe police officers, firefighters and the Kansas School for the Deaf, too.

Kansas City-area resources

Below are mental health resources available in the Kansas City area:

Olathe Public School Mental Health Resources

Crisis Hotlines:
24 Hour Crisis Line 913-268-0156
National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255

Local Mental Health:
Johnson County Mental Health 913-826-4200
Wyandot Center 913-788-4200
Tri-County Mental Health Services (Clay, Platte, Ray counties-Missouri) 816-468-0400
Bert Nash (Lawrence KS) 785-843-9192

Homeless Hotline 816-474-4599
Salvation Army Family Lodge 913-782-3640
Synergy (Youth) 816-741-8700
Artists Helping the Homeless (transportation to shelters) 816-668-1007
Safehome (domestic violence) 913-262-2868

Low-Cost Healthcare:
JOCO Health & Environment 913-826-1200
Mercy and Truth Medical Mission 913-248-9965
Health Partnership Clinic 913-648-2266
UMKC Dental School 816-235-2100

Food and Utility Assistance:
Multi-Service Centers 913-715-6653
Catholic Charities 913-782-4077

Substance Abuse:
Adolescent Center for Treatment 913-715-7600
Regional Alcohol & Drug Assessment Center 913-789-0951
Mirror Inc 913-248-1943
RSI Sobering Unit 913-956-5620

Other Useful Numbers:
United Way Info Line 211
Micro Transit (transportation) 816-512-5510
Area Agency on Aging 913-715-8861
RSI (crisis stabilization center) 913-956-5620
Veteran's Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255
Reporting suspected abuse 1-800-922-5330