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School nurses get trained in youth mental health first aid

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Robertson County school nurses were certified as Youth Mental Health First Aiders after completing an eight-hour training program in early August. SUBMITTED

On August 4, all 21 of Robertson County school nurses were certified as Youth Mental Health First Aiders. This groundbreaking eight-hour training course gives adults the tools to identify when a young person might be struggling with a mental health or substance use problem and to connect them with appropriate support and resources when necessary.

One in five teenagers in America has a diagnosable mental illness, but many are reluctant to seek help or might not know where to turn for care. Unlike physical conditions, symptoms of mental health and substance use problems can be difficult to detect, particularly during adolescence. For people who work with them in the schools, or friends and family members, it can be hard to know when and how to step in. As a result, those in need of mental health services often do not get them until it is too late, sometimes for as long as 10 years.

Just as CPR helps even those without clinical training assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid prepares participants to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Mental Health First Aiders learn a five-step action plan that guides them through the process of reaching out and offering appropriate support.

"Through this program, we hope to take the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems," said Linda Rosenberg President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, which helped bring Mental Health First Aid to the U.S. in 2008. "When more people are equipped with the tools they need to start a dialogue, more people can get the help they may need."

In just ten years, Mental Health First Aid has become a full-blown movement in the United States--more than 550,000 people are certified Mental Health First Aiders, and that number is growing every day.

"Here in Robertson County, we are blessed to have a grant covering this life-changing training program for anyone living or serving kids in Robertson County," said Rebecca Macfarlane, Project AWARE RobCo Coordinator. "Since beginning our trainings in February 2016, we have trained almost 400 Robertson County teachers, bus drivers, school counselors, parents, grandparents, youth workers, and community members. We are very proud to be able to partner with Robertson County Schools to ensure those who need this training most are receiving it."

Feedback from Robertson County Schools has been very positive as well. Dr. Bob Pruitt, Supervisor of Student Services at Robertson County Schools noted, "Recently, a nurse took me by the arm and almost tearfully shared that the Youth Mental Health First Aid was the best professional development she had ever received in Robertson County (she is a long-timer by the way); she added that the clear passion that [the instructors] showed moved her, inspired her, and brought a freshness to the new year."

"We hear stories all the time of how those trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid are using their skills to help the kids in their lives right here in Robertson County," Macfarlane added. "This is life changing, powerful training that really is useful for anyone. Health is health. If you know how to bandage a cut or know CPR, you need to know how to help a young person struggling with their mental health, too. There is much you can do to help without being a therapist or counselor. We know this training makes a difference!"

Free Youth Mental Health First Aid classes are offered in Robertson County every month, and are open to the public. Training can also be offered for free to any group of 10 or more people at any time. For more information or to participate in a Youth Mental Health First Aid training in Robertson County, visit http://www.fcsnashville.org/AWARE or contact Rebecca Macfarlane at 615-212-9480 or by emailing rmacfarlane@fcsnashville.org.

-Submitted by Family and Children's Services.

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