Most people can look back and identify a pivotal moment when the trajectory of their lives was altered forever. For Monica Nepomuceno, Education Programs Consultant at the California Department of Education, that moment came at 27 when she realized she had been living with anxiety since she was nine years old.
“I remember the hardships of having this condition, and all the energy I spent overcoming the roadblocks that anxiety put in front of me,” says Nepomuceno, who now coordinates Youth Mental Health First Aid training for educators in the state.
As Nepomuceno knows first-hand, anxiety can strain relationships with friends, teachers, and family, and even impact schoolwork. Identifying and addressing mental health concerns in youth as early as possible is key to a better life. That’s why Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky youth mental health initiative is investing in Youth Mental Health First Aid training.
Blue Shield’s BlueSky program works in tandem with the California Department of Education to offer these training sessions to schools across California. Over the past eighteen months 1,330 individuals were trained in risk factors and warning signs of mental health concerns in youth.
The training is built on the concept of medical first aid and equipping teachers with the resources to connect their students to a trained mental health professional. “It’s the same way you would help someone who is having a heart attack, an accident or another medical emergency,” says Nepomuceno. “You’re not there to administer medication or any other kind of medical care. You are there to make sure that person is safe until the medical help arrives.”
WHAT IS YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID?
Youth mental health often goes unnoticed because it’s a silent, internal illness that children and young people aren’t always able to appropriately verbalize. The National Council for Behavioral Health states that you are more likely to encounter a child or young person — friend, family member, student, neighbor, or member of the community — in an emotional or mental crisis than someone having a heart attack.
Nepomuceno says Youth Mental Health First Aid gives teachers, school nurses, counselors, coaches, office employees and even bus drivers the necessary skills to reach out and provide initial support to children and teens (ages 6-18).
Within the training, educators learn a five-step action plan that helps them assess the risk of suicide, understand how to listen nonjudgmentally, and when to encourage the student to get appropriate professional help. The interactive, six-hour training also explains the role of resilience and the impact of traumatic experiences on a child and their adolescent development.
“We’re proud to partner with the California Department of Education and reduce the stigma around youth mental health,” says Antoinette Mayer, who leads Blue Shield’s Corporate Citizenship work. “Training teachers, parents, and other adults about the signs and symptoms of depression, trauma, and anxiety will make our schools and communities stronger.”