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Montana Hall is pictured on the Montana State University campus June 10.

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The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration awarded Montana’s two largest universities a $1.9 million grant to continue a program that provides additional training on mental health care for nursing and behavioral health students.

The money will go to the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, a program through both Montana State University and the University of Montana.

The program provides additional training on mental health care for graduate students pursuing careers as psychiatric mental health nurses, clinical psychologists, licensed social workers and professional counselors, said Rebecca Pogoda, the clinical instructor with MSU’s College of Nursing.

Students are placed in institutions, agencies and clinics, typically in integrated behavioral health settings, across western Montana amid a lack of mental health professionals, said Mary-Ann Sontag Bowman, a UM social work associate professor and the principal investigator for the grant in a UM news release.

“This project funds the placement of graduate students in agencies and organizations that serve children, adolescents and transitional-age youth, expanding the capacity of organizations to meet immediate needs and help build the area’s workforce,” she said.

About 17 students from both MSU and UM make up the yearly cohorts, she said.

The grant will fund the program for four more years, according to a press release from the Montana State University. The program is in its fourth year, previously funded by a grant from U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

Most of the money will go toward student stipends, according to MSU. The program is aimed to train the students how to better work with children and teens in mental health care settings in Montana.

The pandemic has exacerbated a mental health crisis for children and teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The proportion of mental health-related visits for children aged 12 to 17 increased approximately 31% in October 2020 compared to 2019, the CDC found.

“A goal of this program is to provide training and experiences so that students who graduate from these programs will be comfortable working with these populations and, in fact, want to work with these populations,” Pogoda said in the news release.

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