What do you do when a friend shows signs that they are struggling with their mental health? This question, and many more, were explored by Milton High School youth leaders when they attended the launch of a series of Teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) Trainings on February 15th. The team’s keen interest in this topic developed last year, when a youth-adult team focusing on equity worked on new ways to share mental health resources within their community. Dean of Students Mike Abbott connected with Sunny Naughton, founder of  Sunshine Silver Lining, a mental health and communications consultancy, and brought the training to 30 adults at Milton High School. The program requires staff to take the training before students in the 10th, 11th, and 12th graders can take part in it. The training is part of a multi-year collaboration with the school district and Vermont Care Partners, which specializes in providing mental health, substance use, and developmental disability services and supports throughout the state. 

During the training, Sunny and Northwestern Counseling and Support Services social worker Holly Branon defined and provided examples of mental health challenges, offered action steps to help a friend in crisis, and shared stories of resiliency and recovery. They also discussed the importance of breaking down stigmas and strategies for improving our own mental health, such as exercise, getting enough sleep, connecting with friends, and having a creative outlet. One of the most striking parts of the day was when the youth discussed the impact of social media on their mental health. Their observations were thoughtful and nuanced, showing a deep understanding of both the positive and negative aspects of the rapidly increasing role of technology in our lives. Sunny and Holly also led the group through scenarios in which a peer was showing warning signs of a mental health crisis, asking what steps they would take to support them, including asking how they are, attentively listening to their response, helping them connect with a trusted adult, and after the immediate crisis has passed, following up and showing that they are invested in the friendship. 


At the close of tMHFA, participants receive “Teen Mental Health First Aid” certificates, and Sunny awarded Mike Abbott a sign that says “Be Kind” for his work in bringing the programming to Milton High School. Vermont was a pilot state for the tMHFA pre-pandemic, and Sunny is excited to launch more trainings in health classes this spring, train more school staff, and continue to build on this work. For more information about bringing the tMHFA training to your school community, please reach out to Sunny Naughton at [email protected]