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Wayne State School of Social Work and Michigan AHEC focus mental health first aid on Michigan youth

March 17, 2014

Wayne State School of Social Work and Michigan AHEC focus mental health first aid on Michigan youth

The Wayne State University School of Social Work and the Michigan Area Health Education Center (AHEC) are placing themselves at the forefront of a national movement to train individuals and communities in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA), a potentially life-saving intervention for minors in crisis situations.

The Wayne State partners are participating in a federal grant-based initiative to implement YMHFA with various AHEC sites across the country. AmeriCorps National Direct funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service was awarded to Northwestern CT AHEC to administer the national campaign for YMHFA, a priority of the Obama Administration that gained momentum after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT. Michigan AHEC and the School of Social Work were selected by Northwestern CT AHEC to serve as one of 14 host sites in 13 states where full-time AmeriCorps members will provide YMHFA certification classes in the community. Both are contributing substantial funding and in-kind staff hours to this endeavor.

As part of the initiative, AmeriCorps Member Sherra Bennett, along with host-site supervisor Rachel Lathrop (M.S.W., ’08), received a 40-hour certification in Youth Mental Health First Aid instruction in Denver as part of the first graduating class of YMHFA instructors in the United States. With Lathrop, Bennett will teach YMHFA certification classes throughout Southeast Michigan to individuals who routinely work with youth, including educators, foster parents, juvenile justice workers, community health workers, camp counselors, and college students.

Classes comprise a nine-hour program that teaches participants to identify the warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents and interact with them until help from a mental health professional is available. Specifically, the certification process teaches individuals how to assess for risk of suicide or harm in youth; listen nonjudgmentally; give reassurance and information; encourage appropriate professional help; encourage self-help; and other support strategies.

“You are more likely to encounter someone who is suffering from an emotional or mental crisis than you are someone having a physical crisis, such as a heart attack,” Bennet said, adding that mental health first aid programs targeting adolescents are critical given that one-half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and three-quarters begin by age 24. “Dizziness, bloodshot eyes, weight gain, oversensitivity, and suspiciousness are merely a few of the many symptoms that can indicate a young person is experiencing a mental health crisis. First aid from a trained observer can mean the difference between a positive and a tragic outcome for this youth.”

Bennet and Lathrop offered their first YMHFA certification classes to Wayne State social work students on Feb. 28 and March 14; their next training is scheduled for March 21 at the College of Nursing. Lathrop said the School of Social Work is an ideal partner in the national effort to promote YMHFA.

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