Mental Health First Aid Training Helps Staff Identify Potential Issues
Mental health awareness is an important component of learning, but not everyone may feel well-equipped to approach a student to have a conversation about any concerns. Two programs, Mental Health First Aid and SafeTalk, have been introduced to staff members at Bloomfield Hills Schools to share potential warning signs of a student in emotional distress and provide ways to provide additional support or immediate intervention.
At the high school level, Mental Health First Aid was selected because it is an international education program proven to be effective in teaching adults how to recognize and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges.
According to BHHS Counselor Tony Midea, “The point is to take people who are experts in adolescent development, like our teachers who know how teenagers act, and help them define and detect any mental health issues early before it gets to be a full-blown crisis.”
Mental Health First Aid training focuses on two main areas, one is the system of identification and the second is to know the sources of referral. “There are guidelines that we use that are sometimes visible like self-harm and sometimes invisible where you are looking for behaviors,” explained Midea. “They gave you a framework for identifying issues where teachers can assess and listen, reassure and encourage self-help, and then refer.” The training also covers a variety of potential mental health areas, including the signs and indicators of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, ADD, suicide, and trauma.
If a staff member has a concern, they can refer to a wide range of mental health professionals at BHHS, including from a teacher to a counselor, from a counselor to a social worker, and from a social worker to a school psychologist.
“Sometimes it really is the difference between understanding normal adolescent angst and having a student venturing into areas that are unethical, illegal, or immoral, where a professional can help you understand,” said Midea about the referral system.
At the middle school level, many staff members were trained through the SafeTalk program.
West Hills Principal Andy Gignac said, “The importance of being able to talk about suicide and what to do if you are concerned about someone is not limited to the high school or older students. Training our middle school staff helped to build confidence to be able to have a direct conversation when you're concerned about someone.”
Gignac said the training has made a significant impact. “I can say that my biggest take-away was to not be afraid to ask the questions,” emphasized Gignac. “You Tell, Ask, Listen, Keepsafe. When someone is contemplating taking their life, there is often a "tell" that they give. Being able to ask directly if they are considering killing themselves or committing suicide is a scary question to ask, but the training supports you in becoming someone who can then listen and share the information in order to keep that person safe. “
Studies have been conducted around the world and show that trained staff members can...
Grow their knowledge of signs, symptoms, and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions.
Can identify multiple types of professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental health or substance use challenge.
Increase their confidence in and likelihood to help an individual in distress.
Show increased mental wellness themselves.
“The teachers here are so good, and we are so in tune with each other, that there really is early identification,” said Midea. The counselors and teachers meet regularly within each Learning Community to discuss the students and any concerns that anyone has. “The district could do it a lot cheaper,” said Midea, “but the Learning Community meetings allow the counselor and teachers to get together to see things early on. Plus, the teachers often tell us that something doesn't seem right, so we are able to quickly address it.”
Gignac agreed, “It’s being able to talk about a topic no one ever talks about.”