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St. Johns County students hope new program can break stigma of mental health

70 children already involved in BRAVE program

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – In St. Johns County, three teenagers died by suicide in 2018. 

The community is now reaching out to those most vulnerable -- high school students.

"If there was a child suffering from cancer, it’s easy to feel empathy," said Flagler Health+ CEO Jason Barrett. "What I’ve found with this -- the ongoing stigma around mental health is we think there’s something wrong with the child, and there really isn’t."

According to Flagler Health+, St. Johns County has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. 
While St. Johns County is rated the healthiest county in Florida, the county’s child suicide rate is three times the state average. 

News4Jax on Wednesday spent the day at one St. Johns County school that is already implementing a new program that offers services to students.

“I think one of the problems is, even if I tell a friend to go to a counselor, they don’t because they don’t want to be a student that struggles with mental health,” said Nease High School senior Ana Hampton. 

With a student body of almost 3,000 students, it's easy to get overwhelmed, Hampton said.

Between the pressure of getting into college and figuring out what you want to do with your life, being a high school student is tough and most students are not talking about that.

Barrett told News4Jax that children fall through the cracks "quite a bit."

"As an example, last year, only 38% of kids that were seen ... were identified as being in crisis by the school district,” Barrett said.

Last week, The Players donated $1 million to the St. Johns County School District and Flagler Health+ to launch the new program called B.R.A.V.E., which stands for Be Resilient And Voice Emotions.

The program will identify students in need of help through care navigators, get them help and then continually follow up with those students to make sure they do not fall through the cracks. 

Seventy children are already involved in the program. They are hopeful the program will be a source that can break the stigma of mental health.

"I just really want it to provide support at any level without making students feel that stigma of I’m struggling with depression or anxiety at all,” Hampton said.

If parents have children who want to get involved with the program in St. Johns County, it is recommended they reach out to a school counselor and ask them about it.


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