Building Mental Health Awareness and Capacity in Schools: Montana Leads for Equity

image of Montana chief and students

By Elsie Arntzen, Superintendent, Montana Office of Public Instruction

As we continue to improve learning and schools across the state of Montana, we have stated a bold plan to ensure that each and every Montanan student has access to great teaching and has excellent post-secondary pathways to success. But before any learning in classrooms happens, we must make sure that all students feel safe and supported and that is why one of the pillars in my administration is Montana Hope. Montana Hope encourages whole-child approaches to ensure students are engaged and that they know they are precious, that they are Montana treasures.

In Montana, we are engaging and promoting whole-child approaches because we must support our students not just as learners, but as young people. This means we must prioritize mental health for our students and over the past year, we have increased our involvement in supporting student mental health and wellness. First of all, we have engaged in conversations about mental health across the state to reduce stigma around seeking help.


We have partnered with country singer, mental health advocate, and Montana native, Jason DeShaw, to host a series of concerts at high schools across the state  to shine light on mental health issues. We worked with the Alliance for Youth in Montana, who developed a great mobile app called Let’s Talk, to connect Montana students with mental health resources. This app and great Montana students were featured on the Today Show. In addition, we have partnered with our hospital association to run a series of Heads Up camps for our middle school and high school youth across the state. For our middle school youth, students learn leadership skills and how to spot signs of suicide. For our high school students, they engage in an intensive mental health and wellness training, develop projects in their communities, and support their fellow classmates as leaders and friends. In our high school Heads Up camps, students showcase their learnings and findings to state and community leaders and have opportunities to engage psychologists and counselors about their career pathways so that we can grow our own future health care workforce here in Montana. Our students are our treasures and our future, and supporting them as whole people is my priority as State Superintendent.

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