Education efforts aid mental well-being

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by Kirsten Faurie | in the Kanabec County Times

Life skills all teenagers should know could include how to sew on a button, treat a sprained ankle, jump start a car and maintain a household budget. Now, Mora High School students are learning an additional set of life skills: how to identify, understand and respond to mental health issues in themselves or others.

“Our society easily talks about cancer, diabetes, broken bones and other physical limitations but we are not as inclined to discuss mental health and mental health challenges as openly,” said Patti Miller, a trained Teen Mental Health First Aid instructor and coordinator for the Substance Abuse Coalition of Kanabec County.

Miller and others want to change the negative stigma of mental health. A new educational program called Teen Mental Health First Aid is one of the new tools Kanabec County Community Health is using to educate, raise awareness and de-stigmatize mental health topics.

Mental Health First Aid training helps teens assist others who are experiencing a crisis.

Just like learning CPR, it doesn’t replace the need to call for professional medical help in an emergency, the Mental Health First Aid skills teach teens how to recognize when a problem needs professional help and how to reach those resources.

Some of the topics covered in class include depression and mood disorders, anxiety, trauma, psychosis and substance use disorders — all while focusing on the belief people experiencing these challenges can get better.

Mora High School was among the first schools in the nation to pilot the program in spring 2020, with it returning to the 10th grade health curriculum in 2021.

The course is taught by Miller. “Generally speaking we have the innate need to help one another,” Miller said.

“I tell each class, multiple times, I’m not here to teach you how to be a therapist, I’m here to teach you how to help your friends (or others), about mental health and what to do if you or someone you know is experiencing mental health challenges or is in a crisis.”

Miller described mental health as existing on a spectrum. “When discussing mental health, I refer to a scale that ranges from: healthy, stressed, challenged, to crisis. Most of us do not live in the ‘crisis’ part of the scale, we bounce between healthy and stressed most days. When we move from stressed to challenged to crisis is when we might need more support.”

Miller said teens are ideal candidates to learn these skills because when it comes to needed support, teens often turn to each other.

“Young people (and let’s face it people in general) turn to each other for support before they turn to parents, siblings, significant others, teachers, online supports, etc. Training young people the skills they need to recognize and help their friends with mental health and crisis situations is the first step, then helping them understand and identify trusted adults that can help.”

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