Youth Mental Health First Aid: How can I help?
By Georgie Price
Three years ago, I began my professional career after college working as a case manager for children and adolescents struggling with mental health or behavioral challenges. I had little idea of what mental health was or how it impacted anyone in the community. I was naïve to the prevalence of mental health issues among youth.
Since then, I have had many experiences open my eyes to the need for help right here in our Waco community. Children and adolescents face a variety of mental health challenges every day, which range from just not being able to get up and go to school, building positive social interactions, to learning how to live and understand mental health and behavioral challenges. Many times family members, teachers and other individuals who interact with this population do not recognize signs and symptoms of mental health concerns, just because they don’t know what to look for. In my experience, this leads to children and adolescents with mental health concerns being seen in a negative light and not receiving the help they need. When just looking at the surface level, we may miss the indicators of a much larger issue, the most prevalent of these issues being anxiety, behavior, mood, and substance use disorders.
The pervasiveness of mental illness in young people can be surprising. For instance, our youth suffer from many disorders including: anxiety disorders at a rate of 31.9%, behavior disorders 19.1%, mood disorders 14.3%, and substance use disorders at 11.4%. Young people that suffer from these disorders are at a higher risk for suicide which, sadly, is the third leading cause of death for young people in the United States. Coming into this profession, I had no idea of the impact mental health was having on our young people but I knew there had to be a way for me to help.
A little over a year ago, I was fortunate enough to be part of a training, to become an instructor for Youth Mental Health First Aid. This program is geared towards educating and certifying community members to provide Mental Health First Aid, empowering them to recognize signs and symptoms of metal health within this population. In my agency, we are able to train a number of people including parents, youth leaders, and any group interested; however, we have geared our efforts towards training those most in contact with youth, which are our educators.
With all of the adversities youth and adolescents face today, it is imperative we differentiate normal teenage behaviors from a mental health concern or crisis. The training is intended for those without background or experience in mental health, and it is very easy to understand. My hope is that the more people within the community are trained, the more successful we all will be at helping our youth and families, as it takes a team to help youth and families achieve the life they desire.
Let me share a story with you: Approximately a year ago, I met a youth and his parent. This youth had a history of assaulting family members and obtaining lethal weapons. CPS was involved and the youth was then on juvenile probation for theft. As we sat down at their kitchen table, the youth would not look or acknowledge me and the parent was suspicious and resistant towards any help I could offer them. I was definitely discouraged, but chose not to give up. I knew I needed a team to help me connect with this family and provide them with as much support as possible. I reached out to the community and gained the alliance of the principal, probation officer, Boy Scout leader, counselor, psychiatrist, and a family partner.
After a couple of months of persistent efforts, all of us showing up at their home, the youth’s school, probation report-ins, wraparound meetings, and connecting them to resources, they began to trust and open up to me. After six months, we are sitting at the same table, and both the youth and parent are engaged and ready for the next task to help them reach the vision they have for the life they want. Anytime there was a setback, it motivated us as a team even more, because this family was not just a family we were helping, they became our family. After a yearlong process of all of us working together, the youth was no longer on probation, making straight A’s in school, no CPS involvement, and home life had improved drastically.
All of these things could not have happened without the help of individuals from the community. No matter what role you play – parent, teacher, pastor, counselor, coach, mentor, and neighbor- you will make an impact on that young person’s life. I encourage everyone to become educated on child and adolescent mental health, whether it is through a program like Youth Mental Health First Aid, or just checking out a book from the library that will better prepare you for interactions with this population. Thankfully, there are many organizations in the Waco community that you can reach out to, but one of the best ways to help our young people is to be become educated on mental health yourself. Your involvement and support in their lives is an invaluable resource we cannot replace.
This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Georgie Price. Georgie is a supervisor for a local non-profit that provides mental health services to children and adolescents. She attended Baylor University and earned a B.A. in Psychology in 2011. Originally from Marlin, Texas she began attending Baylor University in the fall of 2009 and moved to Waco in the fall of 2010 where she has lived since that time. Outside of work she enjoys spending time with her family and finding ways to positively impact children within our community. If you would like to contact Georgie further concerning Youth Mental Health First Aid training or additional resources please contact her at 254-297-7268.
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