JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — The Johnson County Mental Health Center is working to change the stigma around mental health in high schools.
The center created a new mental health program, called Mental Wellness Basics, that it's offering to every public and private school in the county.
Tim Deweese, director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center, said the program consists of four, 10-minute modules that schools can use in their curriculum however they want.
"It's really a process to help kids be introduced to the idea that they're not alone, that sometimes what they're experiencing with the anxiety and the stress of school, that's not uncommon," Deweese said.
The program aims to help students develop awareness and empathy, reduce stigma and teach them about mental health symptoms.
Deweese said the program has been in the works for about a year. It's meant to get more people talking about mental health in the community, not just students.
"Suicide and mental health are not just school issues, not just church issues, they're community issues," Deweese said.
De Soto High School plans on incorporating the program into its curriculum sometime in the next semester or next school year.
Assistant Superintendent Alvie Cater said the district has been working on ways to address mental health more over the last few years and works closely with the Johnson County Mental Health Center.
"Mental health is something that goes beyond the four walls of a school," Cater said. "I think it's a conversation that is happening across the country."
De Soto High School social worker Joe Kordalski said the curriculum would likely be used in health or physical education classes.
"When we're talking about physical health and students' awareness about drugs and alcohol, students' awareness about nutrition, it makes sense to also identify the mental health component," Kordalski said.
Cater said the school is working to figure out how it can logistically incorporate the lessons into its curriculum.
The program is available to every school in the county free of charge.
Deweese said the program costs about $100,000 per year, which is covered through a combination of grants. The Board of County Commissioners approved the funding for it this summer. The Johnson County Mental Health Center has the next three years already funded.
Deweese said the center hopes to secure other funders to keep it accessible for schools in the long run.