Youth Mental Health First Aid was developed in the United States in 2012 as a way to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge, or is in crisis. Youth Mental Health First Aid is primarily designed for adults who regularly interact with young people. In New Jersey’s school and public libraries, youth services librarians and other support personnel see many teens on a weekly or even daily basis, as volunteers, summer reading participants or at library hosted programs, so may be one of the first adults in a position to provide aide to a teen in crisis. But how many librarians would recognize a teen in crisis?
With that question in mind, the New Jersey State Library sought and was awarded a $15,000 Outreach to Consumers Grant from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region. The funds were used to sponsor four classes for library staff to be trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid, so as to enable them to deal calmly and effectively with customers who may be suffering from stress or mental health issues in their lives. Often mental health problems develop during adolescence; half of all lifetime cases begin by age 14, with 75 percent by age 24. Thus, adults who work with teens in any situation, such as at schools, organizations or libraries, may be the first to notice changes in behavior atypical of normal adolescent behavior.
The eight-hour course, taught over two days by the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, introduces common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a 5-step action plan called ALGEE for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders. Mental Health First Aid is one part of a spectrum of interventions aimed at preventing a serious crisis.
The steps of the ALGEE action plan are:
- Assess for risk of suicide or harm;
- Listen non-judgmentally;
- Give reassurance and information, not advice;
- Encourage appropriate professional help;
- Encourage self-help and other support strategies.
Statistically, one in five people will experience a mental health challenge in any given year; 50 percent over a lifetime. Mental Health First Aid was created in Australia in 2001by Betty Kitchener, a nurse specializing in health education, and Tony Jorm, a respected mental health literacy professor. It is taught in 23 countries, is designed to educate; demystify mental illness; and reduce the stigma around mental health and treatments. Through this training, the vision of the Mental Health Association of NJ is a statewide community in which people with mental illnesses can achieve full potential, free from stigma and other barriers to care and recovery. “I went through some of this training,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, “and I saw just how useful it is. It really gives you the skills you need to identify — and ultimately help — someone in need. Because you never know when these kinds of skills might be useful.”
Peer reviewed studies from Australia and across the globe show that the program saves lives; improves the mental health of the individual administering care and the one receiving it; expands knowledge of mental illnesses and their treatments; increases the services provided; and reduces overall social distance toward individuals with mental illnesses by improving mental health literacy. One trial of 301 randomized participants found that those who trained in Mental Health First Aid have greater confidence in providing help to others, greater likelihood of advising people to seek professional help, improved concordance with health professionals about treatments, and decreased stigmatizing attitudes.
The initial round of training was held at the libraries in Bernards Township and Mays Landing. “It’s important for teens to have an adult advocate,” said one of the participants in the Bernards Township class, “instead of just ignoring or dismissing their behavior and get them the help they need.” Training will be offered at the libraries in Fairfield and Monroe Township (Middlesex County) in October. Participants earn a Mental Health First Aid certificate at the end of the two-part program.
For more information on the training go to: http://www.www.njstatelib.org/services_for_libraries/training-for-librarians/youth-mental-health-first-aid/