Statistics show an alarmingly high percentage of children in the United States suffer from some kind of mental disorder. In an effort to help these youth at the local level, the St. Clair R-XIII School District is offering to train adults in “youth mental health first aid.”
Emily Goyea, employed by R-XIII since March as a social worker, is one of eight professionals in Franklin County qualified to train other adults and give them the basics of how to recognize symptoms of mental health issues in adolescents and how to deal with them before professional help can arrive.
“It’s another tool to put in the toolbox in dealing with children,” Goyea told The Missourian. “The goal is to get people to be able to provide the beginning stages of care to children until professional help arrives.”
The course, basically offered anytime when there is enough interest, consists of eight hours of instruction. According to its table of contents, a textbook guides the attendees through mental health challenges and disorders in youth, mental health first aid for developing challenges and disorders in youth and mental health first aid for youth in crisis.
“It’s kind of like being trained in CPR,” Goyea said. “Because you know CPR and how to administer it doesn’t make you a physician, but it gives you the ability to help when something comes up. This training does the same kind of thing.”
Goyea shared statistics that state one in every five children may be suffering from some type of mental illness today as well as one out of every four adults.
“There is a growing need of kids having some kind of disorder,” Goyea said. “This program provides individuals with information about typical adolescent development, how to look for signs of mental illness and how to differentiate typical adolescent behaviors, how to identify potential problems through behavior and how to approach children and ask the right questions to help them.
“Research shows this program is effective and it decreases the time it takes to get kids linked to the appropriate resources. It also increases awareness and decreases the stigma surrounding mental health issues.”
According to the textbook used for the training, “Youth Mental Health First Aid USA,” the more knowledgeable people are about the signs and symptoms of mental disorders and other mental health challenges, the earlier children, young adults and their families will get the help they need.
“The more aware people are of what effective supports and treatments exist, the more young people will get the appropriate help they need,” the introduction reads. “... Research has shown that early detection and treatment of mental disorders can have a significant impact on the lives of young people. Youth Mental Help First Aid USA assists first-aiders to recognize the signs early, before problems become a full-blown crisis, and respond appropriately.”
Anxiety, bipolar, depression, eating, phychosis, substance abuse and ADD/ADHS are some of the disorders discussed during the course. A five-step action plan is taught in order to help someone who may be in crisis. The five steps are assess for risk of suicide and harm, listen nonjudgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help and encourage self-help and other support strategies.
Assistant Superintendent Nadine Myers said R-XIII has had the training available for about two years. She said currently all St. Clair administrators, principals and counselors have gone through it as well as teachers who deal with higher-risk children in the classroom.
“Eventually, we would like all of our teachers to have the training,” she said. “When we have such a significant number of people in our population who potentially suffer from some kind of mental health issue, we need as many resources as possible to help. This is one of those resources.
“Focusing on the mental health of youth is the key. Because a lot of mental health issues surface during adolescence, if we can get the kids help before the condition becomes unmanageable, that’s what we want to do. We want to help kids to be successful in school in any way we can.”
Myers said anyone connected to the R-XIII school district, including parents of St. Clair students, can be trained without cost other than the textbook.
As the district’s social worker, Goyea said one of her responsibilities is to link children and their families to resources that can help them through any difficulties they may be having. And, because of the growing need in this area, that has become too much for school counselors and building principals to handle on their own.
For more information, contact the R-XIII school district at 636-629-3500.