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Balint says teens need training to respond to peers' mental health struggles

A photo of a woman at a microphone
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
Associated Press
Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., speaks during a news conference Nov. 13, 2022. Balint is among hundreds of Americans recently added to the Russian sanctions list.

Vermont's Rep. Becca Balint says students across the nation need first aid training for when their friends and peers are having a mental health crisis.

Balint introduced legislation this week that would fund this training for kids, teachers, school staff, parents and caregivers, touching on topics like how to recognize a panic attack and how to refer people to mental health treatment.

“This was important to me because I've heard from students that they're often the front lines — their friends and siblings reach out to them because they feel comfortable talking to them about mental health struggles they're having, but these kids don't feel equipped, these teens feel overwhelmed that they don't have the initial information that they need to be useful," Balint said in an interview Tuesday onVermont Edition.

Balint's Peer Education and Emergency Response for Mental Health Act would allocate about $25 million per year for the next five years, to be allocated through grants to school districts and education agencies.

The congresswoman said the issue was particularly important to her as someone who had mental health struggles as a teen, as a former middle school teacher, and as a parent of teens.

The most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 42% of high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and nearly a quarter said they seriously considered suicide in 2021.

"These are alarming statistics," Balint said.

Balint also spoke on Vermont Edition about how Vermonters can respond to the murder of a social worker at a Brattleboro homeless shelter.

"We have a really difficult time, in our culture, sitting in grief. It's very uncomfortable. We want to focus immediately to action, and not allow ourselves to just be with the grief and the sorrow," Balint said. "The action is something, as a legislator, I feel very comfortable with. I want to figure out strategies for alleviating suffering long-term. But what I was saying to my neighbors is that if we rush through the grief and the sorrow, our vision will be clouded. We will be unable to think clearly about what the next steps are."

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
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