Youth Mental Health First Aid
In Fall of 2015, the Grundy County Health Department was selected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as a grant recipient for their Now is the Time Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education) program. The program is designed to build and expand the capacity of state and local agencies to increase awareness of mental health and substance abuse issues among school-age youth. Under this initiative, the Health Department is providing Youth Mental Health First Aid training to adults who work with youth.
What is Mental Health First Aid?
Mental Health First Aid originated in Australia in 2001 by Betty Kitchener, a nurse with specialization in health education, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor. Its development has evolved into an 8-hour public education course that introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental illness, helps build participants’ understanding of the impact of mental health disorders, and also overviews common supports. The course made its debut in the U.S. in 2008 and is coordinated by The National Council for Behavioral Health, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
Mental Health First Aid USA worked with experts at the National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health at the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development to create the youth program. Youth Mental Health First Aid was introduced in 2012 to focus on how to assist youth ages 12-18 that may be developing or experiencing a mental health challenge. Participants learn about the unique risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents and utilizes role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to assess for a mental health crisis, select interventions and provide initial help, and connect young people to professional, peer, social, and self-help care. Participants do not learn to diagnose, nor how to provide therapy. Rather, they learn to support youth by applying a five-step action plan:
- Assess for risk of suicide or harm
- Listen nonjudgmentally
- Give reassurance and information
- Encourage appropriate professional help
- Encourage self-help and other support strategies
Who should take the course?
Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed for adults who regularly interact with youth. This includes teachers, school personnel, coaches, youth group leaders, parents, recreational group staff, as well as medical staff, employers, business leaders, faith communities, and first responders, and the general public!
Since its inception, Mental Health First Aid courses have resulted in over 600,000 adults being trained and is included on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. The program itself was included in President Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence and increase access to mental health services. In 2014, Congress appropriated $15 million to SAMHSA for training teachers and school personnel in Youth Mental Health First Aid and the program continues to receive broad bipartisan support.
What will this program do for Grundy County?
It is expected that over the course of three years, this initiative will include training 400 adults in Youth Mental Health First Aid, thereby positively impacting the lives of 8,000 Grundy adolescents, ages 12-18. The Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Division of the Grundy County Health Department plans to maximize community partnerships and referral systems in order to better intervene with youth who are demonstrating early warning signs and symptoms of mental health conditions. With 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness beginning by age 14 and 75 % by age 24, our goal is to increase knowledge, combine that with community resources and referral sources, and aim to have Grundy youth directed to needed services at earlier ages, thereby reducing more serious behavioral health issues later on in life.