Last week Neil and I spent eight hours over two days taking a course called “Youth Mental Health First Aid” and earning our certification. Our fellow students were mostly school personnel and social services personnel. We were the first group in our county to take the class, though more than 175,000 individuals have taken it across the US in the last seven years.

Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to assist “adolescents and transition age youth” ages 12-18. A separate but similar training is available for assisting adults.

In my opinion, it is as important to take this class as it is to take CPR and First Aid from the Red Cross. CPR/First Aid classes don’t only train people likely to need those skills in their work. Average citizens who want to be prepared in a personal or public emergency also become certified in CPR/First Aid.

Emergencies and crises arise in the realm of mental health, too. When faced by what might be a mental health emergency, many people are frightened. They look away and walk away, because they don’t understand what might be happening and don’t know how to be useful.

This course offers information and tools for such situations. This education is particularly important because it helps reduce the stigma that is widespread about mental disorders that results in people feeling embarrassed or ashamed and not going for help when the situation is more manageable.

Here is what a promotional PDF about the course says:

“The course teaches participants the risk factors and warning signs of a variety of mental health challenges common among adolescents, including anxiety, depression, psychosis, eating disorders, AD/HD, disruptive behavior disorders, and substance use disorder. Participants do not learn to diagnose, nor how to provide any therapy or counseling – rather, participants learn to support a youth developing signs and symptoms of a mental illness or in an emotional crisis by applying a core five-step action plan:” [There is an acronym associated with the five steps – ALGEE – and a cute koala bear is a symbol of the program which began in Australia.]

The five steps are

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

Go to mentalhealthfirstaid.org for more information. You might find there is a course available in your community, or you might be instrumental in bringing it there!

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