Shrewsbury – The numbers are staggering: One in five children ages 12-18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness; four out of five children with a mental illness will go undiagnosed; and 50 percent of lifetime mental illnesses have an onset before age 14. Studies have shown that children with mood or anxiety disorders are nearly twice as likely to suffer from substance abuse.
Not every child who shows moodiness has a mental illness, of course. But too often, parents or others dismiss a situation as “just growing pains” or “typical teen behavior.” That, combined with a stigma that still surrounds the topic of mental illness, can result in many children not getting the support and services they so desperately need.
But there is help for children and families alike. For the past year and a half, Shrewsbury Youth & Family Services, Inc. (SYFS) has been hosting an eight-hour Youth Mental Health First Aid course, geared toward adults, to teach them how to identify the signs and intervene to support a teen showing signs of a mental health challenge, substance use or an emotional crisis.
The course is funded by a three-year Project AWARE-Community grant that was granted in October 2015 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The organization’s next workshop will be held over two days, Tuesdays, June 6 and 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., each session at the Northborough Public Library, 34 Main St., Northborough. It is free to all residents and professionals who live or work in Grafton, Northborough, Southborough, Shrewsbury, Westborough and Worcester.
Christine Mowry, project director for SYFS’s Youth Mental Health First Aid, will be running the workshop. Over the course of the eight hours, participants will learn to recognize the warning signs of common mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, eating disorders, substance use disorder and disruptive behavior disorder. Upon completion of the course, participants will receive Youth Mental Health First Aid certification valid for three years.
“We are not teaching you to diagnose or provide therapy – this is similar to traditional first aid courses, but we are concentrating on mental health,” she said. “Adolescents experience mental health challenges differently than adults and may be afraid to ask for help. This course gives you the tools and confidence to be a lifeline to a struggling young person.”
“This workshop is for everyone – parents, teachers, caretakers, coaches, youth group leaders – really any adult who has any contact with adolescents,” Mowry stressed.
In the course, Mowry will review common health challenges youths face as well as typical adolescent development. She will teach a five-step action plan that will help adults implement steps to help youth in both crisis and non-crisis situations.
“We do role-play as well,” she said, “to help you get comfortable with what to say and what to not say in certain situations.”
Over 300 local residents, teachers, professionals and others have taken the course in the last 18 months. In surveys, past participants have praised the workshop.
“I am very thankful that I attended this with my co-workers. I feel we have formed a strong support system to help both our students and adults. This is essential for all educators!” a Northborough teacher said.
“This course really opened my eyes as to what is happening with the mental health of adolescents,” a Shrewsbury community member wrote.
“This class changes minds, opens hearts and saves lives,” a Shrewsbury parent stated.
“In this day and age it is more important than ever to be educated and aware. This course gave me the tools to know how to respond,” a Westborough parent stated.
“You may not know a child in crisis now but perhaps you will at a later time,” Mowry added. “Sometimes it just takes a trusted adult to step in and help get them on the right path.”
For more information, to sign up for the course, or to hold a session for your own organization, contact Mowry at 508-845-6932, ext. 306, or email [email protected].