Mental Health First Aid

Suzanne Dewey
The traditional notion of professional development centers on the concept that when teachers learn, students benefit. Professional development comes in many forms and most frequently with the focus on teaching practices. During a full day faculty inservice, faculty and staff engaged in a Mental Health First Aid training.
At Holderness, professional development comes in many forms. Teachers are mentored by their department chairs and the dean of faculty. They meet collaboratively to explore ideas and think through learning topics. Many faculty members are involved in off-site programs or advanced degree studies. And through the generosity of donors, all faculty and many staff enjoyed Holderness LEARNS, a week-long summer institute. There’s even an endowed fund known fondly as the Chair Year that provides annual support to mid-career faculty to pursue an advanced degree or other professional development for a full year.

Yesterday, the school engaged in a different kind of professional development although one that still will greatly benefit our students. School Counselor Carol Dopp attended the same training over the summer and knew she needed to find a way to bring it back for the faculty and coaching staff. Thanks to the State of New Hampshire and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMSHA), she was able to bring the training program, Youth Mental Health First Aid, on-site.

Armed with a training team and a useful reference manual for all participants, Jenn Sumner, LICSW and clinical professor at Plymouth State University, shared statistics about the prevalence of mental disorders in adolescents and young adults. In any given year, approximately 20 percent of the youth population is affected. She related that first aid training is common for adults but mental health first aid is just as critical and up until recently, harder to access. Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and three-quarters occur by the age of 24.

Some of the more common disorders impacting youth include anxiety, behavior disorders, mood disorders, substance use disorders and yet Ms. Sumner described mental illness as having a negative impact on an individual’s ability to live, love, laugh, and learn. Ms. Sumner and her team used activities and role-playing to demonstrate the prevalence of mental health disorders in various age categories and to help participants understand specific signs and symptoms of more common disorders.

Various scenarios were discussed in small groups with an overall conversation around risk and protective factors as well as approach techniques for students who might be suffering. The overall goal of training included five basic tenets:

  • Preserve life when an individual might be a danger to self or others
  • Help prevent the problem from escalating
  • To guide the student toward recovery
  • To provide support and caring
  • To help identify or guide an individual to appropriate resources
Jen and her team shared a mental health first aid action plan that should be utilized when someone is concerned about the mental status of a youth. The bulk of the training evolved around understanding and employing the action plan with the awareness that just like with first aid, the first responder is not going to diagnose the individual but will make sure the individual is safe and then help them move toward professional resources.

At last year’s end-of-year faculty meeting and through a self-assessment, the faculty asked for more help and guidance on helping identify and guide students who might be struggling with anxiety or other mental health disorders. School Counselor Carol Dopp along with the school’s administration wanted to devote a full-day in-service to this training.  At the end of the in-service, Carol acknowledged “This kind of information is invaluable to the adults in our community. Being able to recognize that a student is in trouble and to be able to help them by listening and guiding them can be the difference-maker in more positive outcomes. I am so thankful we were able to have this training.”
Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness NH, 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257