Almost everyone has the basic first aid skills needed for minor cuts, aches, or pains, and most know when and how to seek additional help. But, the number of people in the community who know first aid for youth mental health or substance abuse is limited. Since GCPS students are in school at most eight hours a day, more community members with the skills and training to identify, understand, and respond to mental health or substance abuse challenges will greatly help youth in crisis.
To meet that need, trained Goochland County Public Schools staff members are offering Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) sessions throughout the 2021-22 school year to anyone who has contact with the community’s children – parents, school staff, coaches, volunteers, youth organization leaders, and community members. The previously advertised January 28 session is already at capacity, but a session will be held on February 18, and additional sessions will be held on dates to be determined March-May.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the United States with a reported mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder. “We definitely see those types of challenges in our schools,” Executive Director of Exceptional Education Jennifer Waggener, Ed.D., said. “Our mental health team is only so big, and we want to make sure that it's not just our mental health team that is familiar with how to help students cope with mental challenges.”
“The idea behind Youth Mental Health First Aid is that, just like regular first aid, you might find yourself in a position where you can assist a child or teenager,” Lead GCPS Counselor and YMHFA-Certified Instructor Ashton Guza said. “We know that providing mental health aid to a young person can seem so overwhelming, especially when we're talking about a crisis,” Guza said. “ The awesome part about YMHFA is that it's very clear that the end goal is not solving the challenge; the end goal is keeping that person safe and providing them the mental health or substance abuse first aid that they need while in the pursuit of professional care.”
The pandemic has negatively affected many children, especially when contact with school staff and friends was limited. That’s one more reason why this first aid training is so necessary. “The impact of the pandemic has highlighted the need for people to be trained so many more of us can provide a bigger support net for a student in need,” GCPS Mental Health Counselor and YMHFA-Certified Instructor Allison Mears said.
To sign up for a Youth Mental Health First Aid session, a form is available at https://shorturl.at/bdvyJ, and information about the program is available at https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/. Any questions should be emailed to Allison Mears, GCPS Mental Health Counselor, firstname.lastname@example.org.