Heads Up Camp brings behavioral health awareness to Montana high school students

Star Staff

A group of 10 students from across the state is participating in the first statewide Heads Up Camp this week in Helena from Sunday through  through Wednesday. The camp is a partnership between the Montana Hospital Association, North Central and South Central Area Health Education Centers (AHECs), Shodair Children’s Hospital, Montana Office of Public Instruction, Intermountain, St. Peter’s Hospital, Carroll College and Touchmark.

Heads Up Camp allows students to explore a variety of behavioral health careers in social work, addictions counseling, psychiatry, and psychology. Throughout camp, students are participating in a multitude of activities about topics addressing suicide prevention, stress relief techniques, building resiliency, leadership and substance abuse. Upon completion of Heads Up Camp students will have completed the evidence-based training — Youth Mental Health First Aid — certification course. The course provides students with tools to empower them when assisting peers in distress and identifies resources for proper referral. 

In addition to providing instruction, Shodair Children’s Hospital also is providing housing and meals for the students.

“Allowing students to spend so much time on our campus provides them with a unique learning opportunity,” said Craig Aasved, CEO of Shodair.  “We want to build long-term partnerships because all of the organizations involved as they each play an important role. Our hope is that we’re able to bring a unified and proactive approach to suicide and mental health in our state.”

The Heads Up Camp program was developed by the South Central Montana Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and the Montana Hospital Association. The program was created in response to Montana’s high suicide rate and the lack of access to mental healthcare. Montana has 79 Health Professional Shortage Areas in mental health care and has one of the highest rates of suicides per capita in the nation. The camp strives to respond to these challenges by empowering students to become advocates in their communities, as well as exposing them to behavioral health resources.

While this is the first statewide camp, the South Center AHEC has already had success in hosting community camps.

“Students who participated in community camps are already making an impact in their communities by addressing the stigma around mental health,” said Natascha Robinson, South Central Montana AHEC director. “It will be exciting to see the change they bring about both as high school students and future behavioral healthcare professionals.”

More information about Heads Up Camp is available by contacting Robinson at 406-457-8048 or natascha.robinson@mtha.org or Shani Rich — North Central MT AHEC director at 406-457-8018 or shani.rich@mtha.org.