April 9, 2014

Teachers offered tools for mental health first aid

Training to help educators recognize, respond to classroom crises.

Columbine. Newtown. Virginia Tech.

The names of these schools and communities have become shorthand for tragedies we all can recognize. We are all too familiar with these worst-case scenarios, when classrooms become battlegrounds.

But what if a teacher had training to recognize early warning signs of mental or emotional instability? As this area’s mental health authority, MHMR of Tarrant County wants to do something to help teachers and our community be aware and able to better respond to mental health crises.

Thanks to funding from the Texas Legislature, we are offering 300 educators (kindergarten through high school) free Youth Mental Health First Aid training. We also will train 30 educator trainers that can take this training further into the schools.

The eight-hour Youth Mental Health First Aid gives teachers tools such as recognizing warning signs, familiarity with common mental health crises and ensuring everyone’s safety during a crisis.

The training outlines a five-step process to assess a situation, select and implement appropriate intervention and help a person in crisis or developing the signs and symptoms of mental illness.

We aren’t training how to diagnose mental illness, but how to recognize common signs and know how to help a person find the most appropriate care.

Teachers will be certified and can count Mental Health First Aid training toward their continuing education requirements. They’ll gain greater knowledge about community resources, as well as information about where and when to make referrals.

Who benefits from this training? The teacher, the school, the community — your children and mine.

“I learned that Mental First Aid can be treated by using the right tools,” said Ramona Caldwell of Metro Opportunity High School. “As educators it gives us the training to serve and provide students the help they need.”

What can you do? Encourage your teacher, your school counselor, your principal and other education professionals to learn about Mental Health First Aid and sign up for this training.

We all know it’s important to have personnel in our schools with the skills to help someone in cardiac arrest or to administer basic first aid. Yet each of us is more likely to come in contact with someone having an emotional crisis, not a physical one.

Mental Health First Aid training is one answer to this need.

Teachers can call MHMR at 817-569-4342 to register for the free Youth Mental Health First Aid. Community members also can sign up for adult or youth Mental Health First Aid at this same number.

Susan Garnett, CEO of MHMR of Tarrant County, has more than 30 years of experience working in the field of mental health and disabilities. www.mhmrtarrant.org

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