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Grant targets mental illnesses in youths

Reading has been awarded a two-year federal grant to support the training of school personnel and other adults who interact with local youths to detect and respond to mental illness and substance abuse in children. The Project Aware grant awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will allow Reading’s public schools to provide training for eight individuals in Youth Mental Health First Aid, a course that teaches participants how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse. Once trained, the eight individuals will then certify 584 school educators, school support staff, first responders, youth workers, and faith leaders in Reading, where the prevalence of untreated mental health and substance abuse is significant. Data gathered through the 2013 Reading Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated high rates of self-injury, bullying, binge drinking, and prescription drug misuse among students in grades six to eight. At the high school level, rates for underage drinking, illegal drug use, and eating disorders were 2 to 6 percent higher than state and national averages. The overall goal of Project Aware is to expand Reading’s capacity to increase awareness of mental health issues and connect children and youth with behavioral health issues to needed services. For more information on Reading’s Project Aware grant, programs, and services, contact grant coordinator Erica McNamara at emcnamara@ci.reading.ma.us.

Brenda Buote can be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.