HEUVELTON, N.Y. (WWTI) — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, timing well with a new program in St. Lawrence County.

The St. Lawrence County People Project and Youth Bureau recently launched a county-wide real-along program based on the children’s book “Gizmo’s Pawesome Guide to Mental Health.”

The book teaches a proactive approach to youth by focusing on positive mental health habits, thoughtful communication and trusted adults. This comes after St. Lawrence County has had a recent rise in youth suicides.

“We’ve all had some tragedy, suicide touching our lives,” St. Lawrence County People Project Executive Director Mary Wills shared. “At the end of my career, I retired in 2018, but I started seeing an increase of anxiety and depression, even in my first graders.”

All reasons to bring the “Gizmo” curriculum to elementary school students. Youth Bureau Teen Ambassadors have helped lead this program in the schools by reading the book to third and fourth-grade classes.

Heuvelton Teen Ambassador Madalyn Richards shared that the students have been enthusiastic.

“They get really excited and they always have so many great ideas,” Richards said. “I hope that this will help the students when they get older. That there won’t be as many suicide rates because they will know how to talk about their feelings and can work through them with the help of trusted adults.”

“Students talking about themselves and their feelings, it’s simple and easy to them,” Heuvelton Elementary School Principal Shannon Jordan shared. “It’s just us providing the opportunity and resources to help them with maybe matching their feelings with how to manage that.

Law enforcement has also joined the conversation. Heuvelton School Resource Officer Chris Blue, who is also a St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s deputy has helped with the Gizmo program.

Deputy Blue said he has seen major benefits among the students.

“I think mental health is a huge thing in our county,” Deputy Blue emphasized. “I see it all the time where I’m dealing with it on the road. So I think it’s important that the kids get to talk about it. Whether they can talk about it with me, or they talk with the counselors about it in school.”

But the program isn’t complete without a furry companion, noted as “Gizmo’s helper.” The People Project has paired the Gizmo book with emotional support animals, who visit the classrooms at the end of the book reading.

The goal is that this program will make conversations around mental health easier and break any existing stigmas at early ages.

Contact the Youth Bureau at (315) 379-9464 or email AChase@stlawco.org for more information about scheduling Gizmo at your school.