Have you ever been intimidated when working with a student diagnosed with a mental health disorder?  I am not going to lie…I HAVE!  My biggest fear, when working with these students, is that they may be unpredictable and dangerous.  Take for instance, the infamous stories of celebrities like Amanda Bynes and Brittney Spears. Here are two beautiful, popular, and rich young women who became the laughing stock of Hollywood for their explosive behavior.  Bynes went on a drug binge, wore outlandish outfits, called out other celebrities on tweeter, and set a fire in her parent’s driveway before she was sent for an evaluation.  Spears went on a partying binge sans underwear with her pals, shaved her head, and took an umbrella to an automobile before her family sent her in for a mental health facility.

Top 5 Celebrities With Mental Health Disorders

Unfortunately, because of the bad behavior of many celebrities with mental health disorders, many students face a lot of discrimination, bullying, and stigma. To conquer my fears and help me gain a better understanding of working with students who have a mental health disorder, I decided to take the Youth Mental Health First Aid course.  

Youth Mental Health Statistics

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) reports that four million youth in the United States suffer from a serious mental health disorder that impacts their ability to function in school; however, sadly only 20% of these youths are ever identified and receive mental services. Untreated, mental health disorders in youths can result in:

Suicide-suicide is the third leading cause of death in youths.
School failure-a large number of students with undiagnosed mental health disorders drop out of school.
Criminal involvement-juvenile facilities and prisons have become the new mental health facilities.
Over utilization of healthcare services– like emergency rooms.

NAMI found that early identification and intervention can minimize the long-term disability of mental health disorders.  


What is Mental Health First Aid?

Just as CPR training helps laypersons with no clinical training save lives, Mental Health First Aid helps laypersons assist someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis (i.e. suicide). Mental Health First Aid was created by Professor Anthony Jorm and Nurse Betty Kitchener in Australia. To date, 19 countries teach Mental Health First Aid including the United States.  The program includes an eight hour interactive session that introduces participants to risk factors, warning signs of mental health problems, understanding of their impact, and overview of mental health treatments.

During the training, the risk factors and warning signs of several mental health disorders are presented. These disorders include: depression, anxiety/trauma, psychosis, ADHD, eating disorders, substance abuse, and self injury. One of the goals of the Mental Health First Aid training is to reduce the stigma of mental health disorders in communities and schools within the United States. One of the practical takeaways of the course is that participants receive a five step action plan that includes: 

  • Skills
  • Resources and knowledge a professional would need to access the situation
  • Interventions
  • How to help individual connect with a mental health clinician in the area

Youth Mental Health First Aid

This new course is designed to work with adolescents between the ages of 12-18 and introduces the participants to the unique risks and warning signs of those who work with adolescents. In addition, the course helps build understanding of the importance of early intervention and teaches participants how to work with youth experiencing a mental health crisis. Not only is this course appropriate for those who work with youth, but the course is also appropriate for older adolescents (ages 16 or older) as to encourage peer to peer interaction. 

What Do You Do When a Student is Going Through a Mental Health Crisis?

One strategy you learn in the course is a Mental Health First Aid strategy called ALGEE. In this action plan, the adult or peer:

  • Accesses for risk or harm
  • Listens non-judgmentally
  • Gives reassurance and information
  • Encourages appropriate professional help
  • Encourages self-help (exercise, deep breathing, etc).

Example of an activity from the Youth Mental Health First Aid Training

One of the highlights of my training was the exercise of speaking to a student who has disillusions.  First of all, one should never try to talk the student out of his disillusions, but try to bring him or her back to reality by moving on to subjects that brings the student to the here and now.  Second, students can suffer from different types of disillusions (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.). For students who suffer from auditory disillusions, they may have a difficult time concentrating on a conversation because of voices they hear constantly.  To understand this concept, try this exercise. 

In a group of three, choose of one these roles: the delusional student, the school counselor, or the “voice.” In order to be the “voice”, take a piece of paper, roll it up, and whisper in the student’s ear.  Truly, this is a powerful exercise as the student will have a hard time concentrating and answering the school counselor. Try it for yourself!

Practical Uses for School Counselors from YMHFA:

  • School Counselors can apply to take the five day course to teach the eight hour Mental Health First Aid course to school staff and community members who work with youth.

  • School Counselors who coordinate peer helping programs can train peer helpers in Mental Health First Aid.

  • School Counselors can apply their knowledge of Mental Health First Aid to create school action plans for students who have a mental health disorder.

  • School Counselors can educate parents and staff regarding misconceptions about adolescents with mental health disorders.
  • Promote Mental Health Awareness month and activities at your school.

Feb. 24-March 1, 2014

  • School Counselors can become more secure and confident in working with students who have a mental health disorder.

If you would like to take the eight hour course and/or become a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, visit the MHFA website.

Here are some great resources regarding mental health:
Active Minds
The Jed Foundation
Anxiety Disorders of America
Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance
Child Mind Institute

Interesting Articles:
Comfort Food: No One Brings Dinner When Your Daughter is an Addict
Kylie Jenner Comes Under Fire for Using the Word Bipolar


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