‘Youth Mental Health First Aid’ at Hearthstone

By Lisa Powers
Special to the Rappahannock News

Current statistics state that approximately one-fifth of teens and young adults have a mental health condition. Half of mental health issues develop by age 14 and three-fourths by age 24.

The average length of time between the onset of symptoms for a mental health condition and actually receiving treatment is 10 years. In any given year, only twenty percent of children with a diagnosable mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder receive treatment.

Almost one-third of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder during his or her lifetime. How can we help?

Participants worked in small groups to research different youth mental health disorders. By John McCaslin

On Saturday, March 16, Hearthstone School hosted a free Youth Mental Health First Aid class. The program teaches trainees how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. It instructs participants in how to best respond to someone who may be developing a mental health problem or is in crisis. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and other mental health concerns affecting youth were addressed.

Jane Mullan, Hearthstone’s director said, “We’re so happy that we could offer this program. Over the years, we’ve seen many young people in the area struggling with mental health issues. We wanted to help.”

The 8-hour class was presented by Terri Pennington and Renee Norden on behalf of the Mental Health Association of Fauquier County.

Renee Norden (left) and Terri Pennington were presenters on behalf of the Mental Health Association of Fauquier County. By John McCaslin

Pennington, who works for the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office, chose to become an instructor because, “I was searching for information about how to help family and friends with mental health concerns when I didn’t think I wanted law enforcement involved, or when hospitalization was not the necessary goal.”

Norden, Director of Guidance at Highland School in Warrenton added, “I was immediately excited about Youth Mental Health First Aid because it just made sense. We educate community members about first aid to deal with physical injuries, but we did nothing to equip our community for mental health concerns. YMHFA gives caring adults skills to help our young people through their challenges.”

Twenty-five participants, mostly educators from Rappahannock, Fauquier and Culpeper counties, attended.

Norden opened the class by asking participants to share a memory from their own middle school/high school days. While many of the recollections were positive, a number of people recounted incidents of being discouraged or humiliated by others. The exercise served as a reminder of how challenging adolescence can be.

The presenters gave a lively program, using a variety of interactive activities as well as film and PowerPoint slides.

In discussing typical adolescent development, Norden had the class form small groups and make drawings of physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual adolescent development. The pictures expressed the confusion, questions, and the ups and downs of this time of life. Puberty changes and the shift from involvement with family to greater peer interaction were noted. Norden stressed that adolescents are experiencing many things for the first time, hence the heightened intensity of these experiences.

While normal adolescence can involve many struggles, the instructors stressed that a mental health issue may be present if something impacts the person’s ability to live, laugh, love or learn.

At intervals, the presenters gave the groups different scenarios that young people might face, and had the trainees decide how they would implement ALGEE:

— Assess for risk of suicide or harm

— Listen non judgmentally

— Give reassurance and information

— Encourage appropriate professional help

— Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

The first scenarios described normal teen problems. As the program progressed, the scenarios became more serious, requiring outside help or intervention.

Pennington emphasized the importance of assessing the person’s physical state first. Some symptoms of a mental health issue, such as disordered thinking or disorientation, can have a physical cause. For example, what looks like a panic attack could be a heart attack.

Both Norden and Pennington stressed that ninety percent of all mental health concerns are treatable, and that treatment for the remaining ten percent can still improve the person’s life.

The Mental Health Association of Fauquier County administers Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid classes in Fauquier and Rappahannock counties. For information on upcoming programs, please contact Brittany Dwyer, Community Outreach Coordinator, at bdwyer@mhafc1.org.

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