KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A local nonprofit is a big player when it comes to supporting teen mental health in our schools. 

The Mental Health Association of East Tennessee launched Mental Health 101 more than 20 years ago. 

The program is now in 149 schools across dozens of counties. Mental health educators served over 32,000 students in middle school and high school last year. 

They teach students how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness, action steps and when to intervene. 

Ben Harrington said a big challenge is identifying and replacing unhealthy coping mechanisms. As CEO, he’s led the organization’s efforts to help schools create a safe and supportive environment for students.

“A school needs to be supportive of a student’s mental health every day of the school year and that’s because there’s no magic day when there’s going to be a problem when a young person is going to be extremely stressed or young person is reacting to an extreme stressor that they’ve experienced at home or in the community,” Harrington said. 

Harrington also shared a student testimonial from someone who went through the program in both middle school and high school. 

The student had the same program teacher and talked about their positive influence. 

“I don’t know if you remember but I saw you a few years ago and you helped me get help because I entered therapy, got to see a doctor, went on medications and I can tell you now, fast forward 3 years, I don’t have to be on medication anymore,” Harrington said. 

Harrington said their work is making a difference, but they need community support to continue growing the program in East Tennessee schools. 

If anyone is interested in donating, visit mhaet.com