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In October 2018 when Lady Gaga co-wrote an op-ed on suicide for The Guardian newspaper, one that implored the world to take mental health seriously, her Born This Way Foundation already was in Las Vegas, working on mental wellness with teens and partner organizations.
When Gaga goes on tour, so does Born This Way. The nonprofit for youths, founded in 2012 by Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, invites concertgoers in each city onto the Born Brave Bus to learn about creating a “kinder, braver world.” It also connects them with community resources by providing stations at the concert’s entrance. One concert tour offered pre-show counseling by mental professionals.
“What we were excited about for Las Vegas is getting to stay there, getting to set up shop, build relationships and be there for more than a night or two,” Born This Way executive director Maya Enista says.
Enista has gotten to know local change-makers and is aware of Las Vegas’ poor rating on the national index for mental health. “The tone from the start of the foundation has been one of aspiration, young people envisioning a world that is not yet possible, and working everyday toward building it.”
Suicide is a major public health problem and a leading cause of death, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Though Nevada’s suicide rate has stabilized in the past two decades, it is nearly double the nation’s rate and is dead last on Mental Health America’s 2019 state ranking for prevalence of mental illness and lack of access to care.
(If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.)
“It’s OK to not be OK” is the stigma-conquering mantra Born This Way uses. It partnered with the National Council for Behavioral Health to bring teen Mental Health First Aid to the U.S. where in-person training programs and a step-by-step action plan teaches young people how to recognize mental health or substance abuse issues in friends and get them to an adult.
Valley High was one of eight schools selected nationally to pilot the program.
With the school’s high percentage of homeless students, a 100 percent free or reduced-price lunch program, and transient student body (one-third of it coming and going throughout the school year), staff already is trained in trauma sensitivity. Mental health counseling is offered at the school’s wellness center. Student training in a form of mental health CPR was the next step. The entire school completed the program in 2019.
“What a difference it did make for our students,” says Ramona Esparza, principal at Valley, where…