Free Youth Mental Health First Aid training happening soon


November 23, 2023

At the Fire Hall on Dec. 2, PMC's Community Wellness Specialist, Becky Turland, and Youth Program Coordinator, Katie Holmlund, will instruct a free Youth Mental Health First Aid training course where members of the Petersburg community can become certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid.

"It's a free training that has potential to save a life," Holmlund told the Pilot.

This year, Turland and Holmlund completed a Youth Mental Health First Aid Facilitator Course - a three-day course offered through the National Council of Mental Wellbeing - which equipped them to train and certify others in mental health first aid.

The certification for "First Aiders" is valid for three years.

Petersburg Community Foundation funded the facilitator training course with a $10 thousand grant.

The facilitators expressed gratitude for the support of the Foundation.

"The training itself was pretty expensive," said Turland.

The money paid for their time in training and covers training materials - "a manual and a participant workbook that everybody will walk out with" - as well as the snacks and refreshments provided at the eight hour community training session Dec. 2.

"Youth Mental Health First Aid training will give First Aiders the tools and the knowledge to recognize the signs and symptoms of a potential mental health crisis or challenge - and how to respond appropriately," said Holmlund.

Engaging with a youth who is going through mental health challenges is not a linear process, she noted, but "having those steps and just being able to walk through and practice them makes it easier to actually implement them - just like you're doing regular first aid, right?"

The training is geared toward identifying "signs" of crisis in an adolescent.

"There's a component within this that talks about adolescent development, so you have some understanding of what you could view as typical behavior and [be] better able to identify when it's going a little off course ... heading towards a crisis situation," said Holmlund. "I think a lot of times those signs are also similar for adults," like isolation, social withdrawal and losing interest in activities.

"Though it is youth focused, it's training that you can utilize with anybody," noted Turland.

"I've definitely used my youth mental health first aid training for adults," added Holmlund.

Katie said a large part of the training follows the ALGEE acronym: how to assess risk and approach people, listen without judgment, give reassurance, how to encourage seeking appropriate help and supportive self care strategies. "All of those are part of like this little toolkit that attendees will be learning."

Story-sharing video components, small-group work, and even art projects are some of the ways that the facilitators will keep the session interactive.

"I feel like it's really engaging. There's a lot of opportunities to move around the room and for like small group work, interactions..." said Holmlund. "So even though it can be a really heavy topic, I think there's a lot of opportunity to engage in a really productive and supportive way. Which is awesome."

In addition to the basics of adolescent development, attendees will learn about seven major mental health disorders and recognize symptoms, but not diagnose.

Different from diagnosing, which First Aiders are not certified for, Mental Health First Aid is primarily about recognizing the signs and being able to "hopefully relieve a little bit of symptoms, and help get them to the services and treatments they need," Turland said.

"And possibly some people just need that Mental Health First Aid component and they don't need that higher level of intervention where they're going to the hospital or behavioral health or counselors," Holmlund added. "They just need someone that they feel safe enough to go to."

"I think that's the cool thing about Petersburg," Holmlund continued. "Almost everybody is in like mama and papa bear mode and we're always looking out for other people's kids. We obviously still have gaps in that, but that's why everyone should go to this training, because then at least we're kind of closing those gaps in our safety net and getting kids - anybody and everybody - to reach out."

"During this training ... we'll have resources for them, but also acknowledging that our resources locally are very limited, and giving what resources are available 24/7," said Turland.

The facilitators stressed that having more First Aiders around can help address the severe national shortage of mental health care providers "spread very, very thin" on a local level, from counselors to behavioral health specialists, during a time when "kids are reaching out now, and we don't have enough people."

"The more people that step up to take this training, the better off we all are," said Holmlund.

"The youth ... they're breaking the stigma. They're understanding that it is okay to have mental health struggles and now we need to have our adults on board as well," said Turland. "We need to be able to provide our adults those support tools and to make them feel comfortable when a youth speaks up or you notice signs."

"It's a skill to engage in those conversations," said Holmlund.

"Especially, we're trying to get out of those old ways of doing things where you keep things secret and keep it at home," said Turland.

"Or 'when I was your age...'" added Holmlund.

"We're breaking the stigma, we want to keep it going and equipping adults before we have any major crisis in our community," said Turland

The training was already planned prior to the two individual threats in Petersburg School District that happened in September.

"Prevention takes a long time..." said Turland.

"But I think we can say with almost certainty that this training saves lives," said Holmlund.


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