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Better Together

Working with community partners to improve health.

St. Luke's, Mountain Home grassroots efforts helping to raise mental health awareness

By Taylor Marschner, News and Community
November 30, 2023

According to the World Health Organization, one in five Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder any given year.

St. Luke’s Community Health and Engagement and Elmore Foundation have partnered to fund and develop “Help is Here!” — a bilingual suicide prevention, emotional and mental health support resource guide for folks in Elmore County.

Bridging the gap in access to mental health support has been a persistent challenge in Elmore County. The “Help is Here!” resource guide seeks to tackle this issue head-on by offering a comprehensive source of information, support and understanding for individuals and families struggling with mental health concerns.

In addition to the mental health resource guide, local initiatives by former and current Mountain Home High School students have played a pivotal role in raising awareness about mental health, which are highlighted in the publication.

In 2017, a suicide greatly impacted classmates, teachers and the community. Many students turned their grief into action. Elizabeth Stephens, who is now a clinical dietitian at St. Luke’s Magic Valley, began the work of ending the stigma around mental health raising money through a “Tiger Walk.”

Another student-led project, spearheaded by Cole Lancaster (2019 graduate) was the Buddy Bench Project. Developed in coordination with the Mountain Home High School Health Occupations Students of America’s annual community service campaign, the goal was to install bright yellow benches throughout Mountain Home to serve as “safe zones” for anyone feeling alone and in need of someone to talk with. The message is simple but effective: “If you need a buddy, sit on the bench.”

Local businesses and individuals donated funds to support the project, while Mountain Home Parks and Recreation donated labor and materials. After raising $20,000, the yellow buddy benches were installed in 2019. Lancaster noted that 2020 graduates Chloe Smith and Mercedez Mason and 2019 graduate Emma Binion were instrumental in contributing to the Buddy Bench campaign. Today, Buddy Benches can be found in Mountain Home parks, plus the elementary, middle and high schools.

Through the project, Lancaster and his classmates were dedicated to breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health and educating others about suicide prevention.

“Growing up in a rural town, there is a huge stigma regarding mental health needs. It is often not understood that mental health is a work in progress, not something you may need help with once and then you should be good for the rest of your life,” he said.

Ava Johnson, a junior at Mountain Home High School and current member of HOSA, started the #YouAreMore campaign. Inspired by her sister’s ACL injury, she recognized the need to bring awareness to mental health struggles that students and athletes face. Ava completed a mural in Mountain Home for #YouAreMore and hopes to expand the club this school year, mentoring younger students throughout the community.

“I don’t think mental health struggles are going away,” Johnson said. “It’s important to have a club that serves as a safe space where students can get involved and help their own mental health and others.”

The school’s efforts to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention in their community is ongoing. Karen Brescia, HOSA advisor and Health Occupations teacher at Mountain Home High School says that these students have helped change the culture at the high school.

“They’re caring, empathetic and want to become health care workers. They care about their classmates and their community,” Brescia said. “The work that we started back with the Buddy Benches, and even two years before that, raising money and awareness with community projects associated with the Boise NAMI, has made a big difference in our school culture. We now address mental illness, openly talk about it, have suicide awareness and prevention on the forefront of teaching, and have hopefully broken the stigma on both.”

The “Help is Here!” resource guide is part of a series of guides available throughout Adams and Valley Counties, Blaine County/Wood River Valley and the Treasure Valley. All of the guides can be downloaded in English and Spanish here.

About The Author

Taylor Marschner is a St. Luke's public relations coordinator.