With one in five children experiencing a diagnosable emotional or behavioral problem before they become adults, mental health is a critical factor in children’s development and their ability to learn.

Counselors from every Portage County school district attended a “Red Flags for Mental Health Education” training and will incorporate the school-based mental health education into their districts.

The course was taught by Penny Frese, PhD, founder and executive director of Red Flags National, a non-profit based in Hudson, Ohio. Frese emphasized that mental health is fundamental to overall health and that early intervention is essential to children’s health and development.

Mental health problems are a result of a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Like physical disorders, they are most successfully treated at the onset. “It’s important to note that Red Flags is not a crisis program,” explained Frese. “The goal of Red Flags is to encourage the development of sound mental health habits and enable quick intervention at the first warning signs of difficulty, just as we do for other illnesses.”

Red Flags offers a framework for comprehensive mental health education that includes an understanding of good emotional and behavior health, a recognition that mental health problems occur on a continuum, an ability to recognize early warning symptoms, and knowing when and where to ask for help.

The Red Flag framework consists of a curriculum for students, typically taught in the middle school, information given to parents and staff every year, and adoption of a protocol for referring and accommodation of children in need for the school district.

The counselors who attended were enthusiastic that building a culture of mental health in their schools can be inexpensive, sustainable, easily achievable, and beneficial to students and staff alike.

“We are pleased that the school districts will adopt the framework into their schools,” said Joel Mowrey, PhD, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. “Much of the stigma around mental health is due to a lack of understanding that physical and emotional/mental problems are both health problems. It is important to raise awareness and decrease stigma, so people seek help.”

Representatives from local agencies, Children’s Advantage, Coleman Professional Services, Family & Community Services, and Townhall II presented information about the services available.

The day-long training was organized by the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. Each school district was provided a tool-kit for the staff to use to implement Red Flags with funding from the Coleman Foundation’s Suicide Prevention Endowment. For more information about Red Flags, contact the Mental Health & Recovery Board at 330-673-1756.

School counselors from each district attended the Red Flags training organized by the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. Amelia Mohan, Rootstown; Megan Daley, Ohio Virtual Academy; Jenny Gamertsfelder, Southeast; Ginger Biales, Aurora; Rose Gainard, Windham; Deb Rutzky, Kent; Penny Frese, Red Flags; Peggy Shafer, Waterloo; Bonnie Schuck, Field; Monica Holzapfel, Streetsboro; Jessica Blankenship, Garfield; Lynn Morrison, Crestwood; Christian Griffin, Ravenna.