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Youth Mental Health First Aid

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Kentucky School Advocate
April 2016
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer 
Because some Corbin Independent Schools personnel were trained in recognizing signs of mental health issues in youth, three students were identified as at risk for suicide and referred to professional services.

That is just one tangible result as the Corbin district continues in the second year of a project called AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) that trains the school community in Youth Mental Health First Aid.
Embedded Image for:  (20163231253440_image.jpg) “This is all designed to help train people who work with youth, to hopefully provide the guidance so (youth) can get the assistance they need,” said Mark Daniels, Corbin Independent’s director of support services. “We cover all the different topics, say, a student who’s having some situations involving drugs, depression, suicide – it covers the whole gamut with suicide.”

Besides educating adults about common mental health issues in youth and how to recognize them early, the training also decreases the stigma and myths around these problems, said Kathryn Tillett, project director of AWARE at the Kentucky Department of Education.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that one out of every five children experiences a diagnosable mental health disorder” at some point, she said. “When you think about that kind of pervasiveness of an issue, then having everybody a little bit informed about what this is and how to fix it and what resources are available is really helpful.”
Corbin Independent school personnel receive training in Youth Mental Health First Aid.
The district was one of several in the state to receive federal funding for the program.

The AWARE programs are funded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which in 2014 gave grants to KDE and several individual Kentucky school districts, Corbin among them, and an education co-op. With its funding, KDE is piloting the AWARE project in Jefferson, Fayette and Pulaski county school systems. Key personnel, both in the school districts and in community agencies that have contact with youth, receive more intensive training and in turn become trainers themselves.

The tool on which the training is based is Youth Mental Health First Aid, a program that uses a core five-step action plan to help students ages 12–18 by:

• Assessing for risk of suicide or harm.

• Listening nonjudgmentally.

• Giving reassurance and information.

• Encouraging appropriate professional help.

• Encouraging self-help and other support strategies.

According to the program’s website, participants in the training do not learn to diagnose or how to provide therapy or counseling.
Embedded Image for:  (201632312953358_image.jpg) Henderson County Schools, another district that received a federal grant for the AWARE project, has six personnel who are Youth Mental Health First Aid trainers, a team that is bolstered by two police officers and two staffers from mental health providers. Steve Steiner, the district’s director of administration and also a trainer, said about 100 people received the training last semester, with the goal of reaching 200 people a year. Those who receive the training get a certificate.

Steiner said the training has made a difference in how adults perceive mental health. “Our adults are kind of altering their perceptions and preconceived notions about mental health issues,” he said. “It helps you understand what your perceptions are and then leads you toward being able to make a difference in the way you talk, in the way you act, the way you see things and how we then transfer that over to helping kids.”

The Youth Mental Health First Aid training helps participants distinguish between normal youth drama and the real thing. “We kind of figure out what is what we might call typical versus nontypical,” Steiner said.

In Corbin, 12 trainers have provided the Youth Mental Health First Aid training in full-day professional development sessions at the intermediate center, middle school and high school, Daniels said. In addition, all family resource and youth services center coordinators have been trained as well as others in the community.

“The whole plan is to try to impact as many people working with youth as possible – you have youth ministers, law enforcement, people with comprehensive care,” Daniels explained. “We also trained our day treatment folks – anybody who works with youth. We’re also involved with the colleges, getting this set up for people going into social work, going into the education program.”

As part of the project, Henderson County Schools has hosted a series of community forums, including one in which a doctor discussed mental health, one focusing on coping and resiliency skills and another on effective parenting. A fourth session is planned as a “showcase” of providers explaining their services.

KDE’s Tillett said it’s too soon to evaluate the overall impact of AWARE in the three pilot school districts KDE is working with, but the agency will be trying to measure whether it affects school climate.

“A student that has a trusted adult (in his life) is more likely to be engaged in school, more likely to have good feelings about feeling connected there, and if you have adults who are trained in this kind of universal supportive practice, Youth Mental Health First Aid, then they’re going to be more likely to be trusted,” she said. “So in that sense, it definitely has an effect on school climate, though it’s a little less direct.”

For more information on Youth Mental Health First Aid, go to

KDE, through its grant, also is subsidizing the training statewide. Any interested school, district or group should contact Kathryn Tillett at (502) 564-4970 or [email protected].
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