MISSOURI — When you think of first aid, it could be a band-aid for a scraped knee or aspirin for a headache.

Now, Missouri state education leaders want to expand that principle to mental health.

“I think this is critical to help our students succeed,” said Dr. Mark Baker, Carthage R-9 Superintendent.

Dr. Baker puts a high priority on mental health on campus.

“We knew going into COVID and after COVID that kids and our staff will have some concerns, and we want to try to address them as much as we can,” said Dr. Baker.

The Carthage School District has beefed up mental resources, adding two professional licensed counselors on staff and opening an Ozark Center Health Clinic at the high school.

Staff members are trained to look for signs that there might be a problem.

“Maybe if they’re looking down a lot more than normal or even crying or not talking to people. I think those are things you can look forward to say something might be going on,” said Dr. Baker

But Carthage isn’t the only school district hoping to boost mental health.

That’s the goal of a new initiative launched by the Missouri Department of Education and Secondary Education.

“Mental Health First Aid is really about recognizing the signs of either a mental health crisis or just a mental health situation and then providing a listening ear, a non-judgmental listening ear, recognizing those signs in one of our students and then helping connect them with community resources or and at the elementary level helping their parents connect those with those resources,” said Katy Booher, Soaring Heights Principal.

Booher has gone through the training. She calls it an opportunity to find new ways to help.

“I think when we look at classroom teachers who are with our students for, you know, seven-plus hours per day, giving them the skill set to recognize mental health needs in our students, or anybody that’s in the building, whether that be a support staff member or an administrator, just to know that there could potentially be something that a student is facing, and that giving us the power to help support that child,” said Booher.

She believes mental health first aid is a valuable resource for anyone working in any school in the state.

“It’s important for all educators to build this skill set so that we can meet the needs of our students all across the state,” said Booher.