Maybe some of you have heard about Mental Health First Aid. I can’t remember when I first heard about it. Maybe I was researching something online or saw someone mention it on Twitter. I don’t know. But after I started planning ADAM—Teen and doing some initial research for my idea to do conferences or trainings for middle and high school students (tentatively called “Mental“—though I’m thinking of shifting around how it works), I signed up to take a Youth Mental Health First Aid USA course.
Mental Health First Aid was originally started in Australia, but the courses here are part of the National Council for Behavioral Health. For an entire Saturday, I participated in a taught course with lots of interaction and group work to become certified in “Youth Mental Health First Aid.”
I was lucky enough to find a free course, and it was amazing. Not only did I receive the great instruction, but I also was given a fabulous and informative workbook detailing various mental health issues that youth face, how they manifest in adolescents, and different resources and information that can be used to help these individuals. I’ve started to read the book, and it is all so interesting and informative—parents, teachers, youth leaders, church leaders, etc. should all read it! We need to know how mental health conditions manifest and realize how common they are in our youth.
We started the day talking about mental health in general, including statistics, when certain disorders begin to show up (it’s often much younger and sometimes in different ways than we might anticipate)! Hearing the comments and experiences of the other people taking the course was so valuable—the stories of children and teenagers in their lives and how mental illness has affected and changed them really opened up my eyes to the reality of these conditions in our children and teens.
We talked about the importance of understanding that, as “first aiders,” we are not to diagnose mental illness but to simply provide care until appropriate professional help is available, similar to how those trained in “typical” First Aid stabilize a person until medical care comes.
I loved our discussion on the “linguistics” of mental health—how so many of us use phrases or words that perpetuate stigma or outdated ways of thinking about mental illnesses. In fact, communication is so important when it comes to talking about mental health. We went over how we can best talk to those with mental health issues to get them appropriate care and help them to feel validated and safe.
We discussed the Mental Health First Aid “Action Plan”—or what things we need to do as mental health first aiders to help someone who is having an issue. We went over physical symptoms of mental health problems, how to listen, how to assess “risk,” what to tell someone who is having an issue, and how to best encourage professional and self help. We discussed self harm and suicide, focusing on the importance of directly asking someone if they have ever thought about killing themselves and what to do if they are suicidal.
Yes, it was a long and physically/emotionally/mentally exhausting day, but one that was so important and taught me so many great skills to understand and help not only my own children but also any youth I may come in contact with who are having mental health challenges of their own!