COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A $2 million grant is being used to tackle mental illness among students in Muscogee County.
The school district is one of three districts across the state to receive money from the Georgia Department of Education earmarked for mental health.
According to NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 13 percent of adolescents and teens will experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.
"Our state in particular is lagging behind in terms of supporting mental illness and we really feel that that's because of the stigma," said Amy Zabel, Vice President of NAMI Columbus.
Zabel is trying to change that. She not only trains organizations on how to cope with mental illness, she also works closely with Project Aware.
Aware stands for Advancing Wellness And Resilience in Education. It's responsible for coaching Muscogee County teachers on identifying mental health problems.
"On how to manage behavior all the way from managing behavior to understanding trauma actually to how to train our leaders on how to support teachers who are struggling with behaviors," added Tammi Clarke, Director of Project Aware.
To combat the widespread problem, experts like Zabel and Clarke say intervention needs to start at an early age--conditions that go untreated often balloon into a chronic state.
"Mental illness is like a physical illness," Zabel said. "You would not go to the doctor if your arm was broken. It's just a simple chemical imbalance in the brain."
This grant is for a span of four years. At the end of that period, Clarke says they hope to leave a good support system in place that promotes advance behavioral health and wellness in children. Universal screening for all students is also a requirement for Project Aware.