Youth Mental Health First Aid courses offer insight to tumultuous teenage years – Thecountypress

Posted: January 26, 2020 at 12:43 pm

This post was added by Alex Diaz-Granados

The free course is taught by certified trainers and CMH staffers Jennifer Bechtel and John Wilson. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese

LAPEER How does a person distinguish between the regular mental and emotional trials and tribulations of adolescence, and something more serious?

What might seem like the usual issues associated with tumultuous teenage years mood swings, aggression, insecurity might actually indicate mental health issues that require the attention of a professional, but for the uninformed, it may be impossible to tell the difference.

Thats where Youth Mental Health First Aid comes in. Designed to help adults who work with youth aid in the issues experienced by young people, the Youth Mental Health First Aid course equips adults with the tools necessary to act as a first responder to a mental health emergency.

The classes, offered free of charge by Lapeer County Community Mental Health and are led by John Wilson and Jennifer Bechtel. Wilson is a case manager at CMH, and Bechtel works in the CMH childrens department. Both were certified as instructors in August of 2019.

According to Lauren Emmons, CEO of CMH, attendees learn the basics of identifying the risk factors and warning signs of mental health and addiction issues. This information, much like CPR and first aid for injuries, is important because it provides the knowledge to assist a friend or loved one in crisis and in securing professional help, he said.

The first course was held Thursday, with three more planned throughout the spring and summer. The eight-hour, one-day course will be offered March 27, May 22 and Aug. 3.

According to Bechtel, attendees will learn if behavior exhibited by an adolescent is typical, or does this require my attention? she said. Its hard to distinguish the typical versus what is a real problem.

The information in the class is designed to help adults assess youths age 12-18 often a fragile, and vital, time in mental/ emotional development. While its designed for adults who regularly interact with adolescents, such as teachers, coaches or youth group leaders, the tools are valuable for anyone. As first-aiders, said Bechtel, were there to provide help until professionals are able to address the disorder.

Throughout the county, educational professionals are undergoing the Youth Mental Health First Aid training, becoming certified first-aiders and course trainers in order to be able to better assess the emotional/mental health needs of their students. Educators in a number of Lapeer County districts have already completed the training, and more are becoming certified yearly.

Bechtel said that one of the keys in determining whether a youth is experiencing something beyond adolescent growing pains is the prevalence of multiple issues at once. Bechtel created four categories physical, mental, social and emotional and while most youths will experience issues in one category or another as they grow, a more serious health issue might be indicated by symptoms in multiple categories simultaneously. Youths are very resilient, she said. But its important that they have a supportive group around the, a trusted adult to talk to, a safe home environment or a friend group to rely on.

The role of a first-aider isnt to diagnose, said Bechtel, but to provide early intervention leading up to professional treatment. We want to be careful to work within our range, she said. Were not here to diagnose, were here to keep them safe until professional help can arrive.

With a topic like mental health, theres still a stigma that inhibits open discussion of issues, but Emmons said the class offers attendees tools to help break down that stigma. Stigma about mental health and mental illness is still a concern because the stigma can be a barrier to an individual in making a decision to seek help, he said. One of the underlying goals of Mental Health First Aid is to provide needed knowledge to reduce the stigma of mental illness and addiction and to encourage friends and loved ones to get the help they need.

Mental illness isnt a rare or shameful occurrence according to Emmons, nearly 50% of adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime and in any one year, one in five adults will experience a mental illness. It is highly probable that every person has contact with at least one person in their social circle or family that is risk of experiencing a mental illness, Emmons said. The skills you learn in the Mental Health First Aid class will give the confidence to reach out and provide assistance and support.

Much of being a first-aider, said Wilson, is willingness to engage in dialogue, as uncomfortable as it might be. It could be a matter of life or death, he said. Its a tough question to ask, to ask if theyre thinking of taking their own life, but you have to ask it and be direct, said Wilson. The first time I did it, it was really difficult, but its amazing how open they become, and we want them to be open, we have to let them talk and say whats on their mind.

At the end of the day, Youth Mental Health First Aid is about recovery, Wilson said. Its a chance at hope, that theyll feel better tomorrow than they did today.

For more information on Youth Mental Health First Aid or to register for an upcoming class, contact

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Youth Mental Health First Aid courses offer insight to tumultuous teenage years - Thecountypress

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