MOULTRIE, Ga. — Colquitt County School System is offering free training this summer in Youth Mental Health First Aid, a groundbreaking eight-hour course that helps adults identify young people struggling with mental health or substance use problems and connect them with appropriate support and resources.
According to Mental Health First Aid’s website, one in five Americans has a mental illness but many are reluctant or unable to seek help. Unlike physical conditions, symptoms of mental health and substance use problems can be difficult to detect. Friends and family members may struggle to know when and how to step in. As a result, those in need of mental health services often do not get them until it is too late.
“Youth Mental Health First Aid is an important training offered in Colquitt County Schools to ensure student safety,” said Irma Townsend, the system’s assistant superintendent for student services. “It is of even greater value as we begin school after the pandemic to ensure support is available when students experience mental health issues or a crisis.”
Just as CPR helps even those without clinical training assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid prepares participants to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis, according to a press release from the school system.
“You won’t leave this training with an advanced degree in psychology or counseling, just like you don’t leave a CPR class with a license to practice medicine,” said Tabathia Baldy, the director of Response to Intervention (RtI) and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) for the school district. “Our first goal is to help adults distinguish between the signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder and typical adolescent development, which is itself a tumultuous time in our lives.”
Mental Health First Aiders also learn a five-step action plan that guides them through the process of reaching out and offering appropriate support, said Baldy.
“That is especially important in a rural community like ours with fewer resources than that of a larger city,” she said. “Plus, many of the resources available now in our community didn’t exist here even a few years ago, so we often don’t know what help is available locally.”
Another goal is to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health and substance use issues.
“Through this program, we hope to take the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems,” says Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, which helped bring Mental Health First Aid to the United States in 2008. “When more people are equipped with the tools they need to start a dialogue; more people can get the help they may need.”
The cost of Youth Mental Health First Aid training is covered through a mental health awareness training grant funded by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency. Locally, the system has trained 323 adults, said Baldy, including school system employees, 4-H leaders, and church leaders.
“We would love to see everyone who interacts with our community’s young people trained in this program,” said Baldy. “Teachers, administrators, school support staff, pastors, Sunday School teachers, youth sports coaches, Y mentors, Boys and Girls Club: you name the organization, and we want to train them.”
To that end, the system invites interested participants to register for one of the following dates: Tuesday, July 7; Wednesday, July 8; Thursday, July 9; Monday, July 13, Wednesday, July 15; or Wednesday, July 22. Each session will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The class is free but enrollment is limited to 20 people. Priority will be given to school system employees and other spots are available on a first come, first served basis.
For more information on the Youth Mental Health First Aid training sessions in July, contact Allen Edwards at 229-798-2900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.