Training geared toward helping kids with mental issues

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Mental health first aid training is now available for those who work with youth.
Organized by Mental Health America and Mental Health and Recovery, the program is for ages 11 to 22.
It is available free of charge to teachers, youth pastors and others who work with kids.
For more information, contact Mental Health and Recovery at 740-522-123

NEWARK – Experts estimate that 1 in every 3 young people will experience a mental health issue every year.

That’s a lot of local children and teens in need of assistance — but many of them don’t know how to ask for help, said Penny Sitler, executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County.

MHA has teamed up with Mental Health and Recovery of Licking and Knox Counties to give adults who work with young people the knowledge they need to help kids cope with a mental health crisis.

The two organizations are looking for people interested in completing an eight-hour mental health first aid training geared toward ages 11 to 22.

“We want to give them the tools so they know how to respond,” Sitler said.

Using funds from the area’s Mental Health and Recovery levy, MHA and Mental Health and Recovery launched the mental health first aid program in September by offering training on how to help adults experiencing a mental health crisis.

Just like first aid training sessions that deal with physical illnesses, such as a bleeding wound or a heart attack, mental health first aid teaches participants to access a situation and react appropriately.

“It’s not clinical training,” said Kay Spergel, executive director of Mental Health and Recovery. “What we want to do is identify issues as early as possible.”

Spergel and Sitler have taught 10 adult first aid training classes in Licking and Knox counties in the last nine months. When they found out funding was available for the youth version of the program, they decided to start offering it as well. To learn more, they attended a training session with several other local volunteers that was sponsored by the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction.

Now at least five local people are certified to teach the class in Licking and Knox counties, creating more opportunities for outreach, Sitler said.

Although the program has the same goal as the adult mental health first aid course, the method is different, Spergel said.

The adult program gives participants information about symptoms of specific illnesses, such as depression or schizophrenia. But the youth program explains that many children experiencing mental illnesses are responding to emotional upsets or trauma, she said.

“A lot of research suggests if they are going into their first episode and if we can intervene at the beginning, they tend to recover faster, stay in recovery and be healthier adults,” Spergel said.

Children and teens are more likely to express their emotions with actions instead of words, she said. The training takes participants through several scenarios that help them identify early warning signs.

“Kids tend to isolate themselves or demonstrate risky behaviors,” Spergel said. “If we can empower adults to identify this in kids, we might be able to keep them from engaging in risky behavior.”

Licking County has multiple resources to help parents. Pathways of Central Ohio and MHA offer parenting support programs, and the Mobile Urgent Treatment Team responds to youth in crisis in their homes.

But the program is an option for other groups who deal with youth, including guidance counselors, school custodians, librarians, Scout leaders or camp counselors.

Spergel and Sitler are hoping to organize a community training for Licking and Knox counties sometime in July in Utica. They also are reaching out to local school districts and other organizations.

The training can be presented free of charge to any group of 10 to 30 people and can be done in one eight-hour session or two four-hour sessions.

Based on the feedback they received from the adult mental health first aid program, Spergel and Sitler said they are confident there will be a good response to the youth version of the training.

“People are looking for answers on ways they can help the community, particularly with children,” Spergel said. “They want to do something to help if they can and this helps them develop the tools they would need.”

ajeffries@newarkadvocate.com

740-328-8544

Twitter: @amsjeffries

Learn more

For more information on Mental Health First Aid for youth or adults, contact Mental Health and Recovery of Licking and Knox Counties at 740-522-1234 or mhrlk.org or Mental Health America of Licking County at 740-522-1341 or mhalc.org.

People who need immediate assistance for themselves or a child should call 211 or 800-544-1601.

Found in The Newark Advocate July 1, 2015

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