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Carolyn Fabis is a social studies teacher at Idaho Virtual Acadeny (IDVA).

Tis the season to be jolly. However, for some people the holidays are anything but. Those who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges find this season especially challenging. Even those who are usually content may experience loneliness and a lack of fulfillment.

IDVA staff recently had the opportunity to become Mental Health first aid responders. This workshop came together after our school social worker, Alex Zamora recognized a need for those who work with young people to recognize symptoms and learn ways to respond to students who need help. Idaho is among states that have been termed “the suicide belt” having the seventh-highest per-capita rate in the country. Other states include Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada and Utah.

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. As a staff, we spent a whole day working with the Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum provided by the Speedy Foundation –thespeedyfoundtion.org. The goals of Youth Mental Health first Aid USA are twofold- to teach members of the public how to respond in a mental health emergency with youth and young adults and to offer support to a young person who appears to be in emotional distress.

There are many reasons why educators and others who work with young people need training in mental health first aid. Here are a few we learned through this workshop:

Mental health challenges and disorders often develop during adolescence. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14. (NAMI Dec. 2015)

Mental health challenges and disorders are common. Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 to 15 the estimate is 13 percent. (NAMI Dec. 2015) Stigma and discrimination are associated with mental health challenges and disorders. Negative attitudes and discrimination can lead to exclusion from social activities. This may keep youth and young adults with problems form seeking help. (Jorm, A.F., Wright, A.,  & Morgan, A.J. 2007)

Professional help is not always available. Parents, caregivers, and other adults can offer immediate first aid and assist the young person in getting appropriate professional help and supports.

If you believe a young person you know is displaying symptoms of mental illness or warning sign, you should talk to them about how you can help. In any first aid course, we learn an action plan for the best way to help someone who is injured or sick. Similarly, the Mental Health First Aid program provides an action plan on how to help a person in a mental health crisis. Its mnemonic is ALGEE. These steps can be followed in any order:

A ssess for risk of suicide or harm

L isten nonjudgmentally

G ive reassurance and information

E ncourage appropriate professional help

E ncourage self-help and other support strategies

Some warning signs include:

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
  • Suddenly happier, calmer.
  • Losing of interest in things one cares about.
  • Vising or calling people to say goodbye.
  • Giving away personal things.

Effectively communicate with young people:

  1. Be genuine
  2. Allow for silence
  3. Try different settings for communication to see what works best
  4. Do not compare the young person’s life with your own experiences from that age.
  5. Do not trivialize the young person’s feelings.
  6. Do not ask the young person to justify or explain the behavior.
  7. Watch your body language
  8. Provide positive feedback and look for and acknowledge the youth’s strengths.
  9. Help them to find the language they are looking for.
  10. Ask directly if they are thinking of suicide. “Are you thinking of killing yourself? Do you have a plan?”

For more information go to https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/cs/

Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#

About The Author

Carolyn Fabis

Carolyn Fabis has been a social studies teacher at Idaho Virtual Academy (DVA) since 2012. She has taught in the alternative high school social studies program since its beginning. Carolyn earned a bachelor's degree in marketing communications with a minor in psychology from Columbia College Chicago and a master's of education degree in technology from University of Phoenix, where she also earned her 6-12 teaching credentials. Carolyn lives in Boise, Idaho, with her husband and two children. For fun, she loves gardening camping, hiking and traveling with her family.

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