Children and young adults experiencing mental health issues are beginning to find the words to describe what they are going through and are speaking up about their issues. However, in many cases, adults do not know how they can help young people with their situations. Fortunately, programs are being implemented in school systems to introduce these students to resources that may bring some form of comfort.
The Communities In Schools (CIS) Program Is Helping
According to Judith Allen, “We’re seeing a lot more kids that are experiencing anxiety, depression, sadness.” Allen is the COO of Communities In School of Chicago. The non-profit group provides access for K-12 students to counselors, coaches, and clinicians. She says the group is in place to keep students from dropping out of school and does this through their popular course called Mental Health First Aid.
Allen says the program has drawn an increase in activity this past year receiving triple the number of requests than previously. She explains that the extra volume verifies “a trend that echoes across our state.” It also points to the importance of having such a program available. If you have a teenager seeking help, Geode Health in West Loop has recently opened providing mental health care for a variety of issues.
By the Numbers
So far, over 98,000 Illinois residents have been trained through the Mental Health First Aid course. The National Council for Mental Wellbeing says course certifications took an 83% jump from 2020 to 2021. They also indicate that at the national level there are over 2.6 million certificate holders and 27,000 certified instructors. The program is provided free of charge to participants thanks to sponsorship funding.
About the Course
The CIS Version of Mental Health First Aid focuses on children. Adults learn to watch for signs that may hint at an underlying problem. Isolation is one of the most obvious signs, and the course includes helping adults spot other signals ranging from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse to psychosis and trauma. These signs are typical indicators that something else is troubling the child or teen exhibiting them.
According to program instructor Shipra Panicker, “This training provides really concrete steps of, ‘Ok, I noticed something is going on, these are the things I can actually do about it.’” A real-life example is a teen experiencing the break-up of a romantic relationship. “We’re not going to tell this young person to just eat some ice cream and get over it,” Panicker states. “We’re actually going to process with them what’s going on.”
Pop Star Supports Mental Health Education
The Born This Way Foundation was co-founded by popular musician Lady Gaga. The foundation provides funds for programs and initiatives that are aimed at demonstrating the power of kindness to impact wellbeing, validating the emotions of young people everywhere, and removing the mental health stigma. Gaga states that “it is not easy to face our mental health and it’s something that has a heavy stigma around it.”
The Course Is Not Mandated in Illinois
Although school personnel in Arkansas, Virginia, North Dakota, and Maine must take some form of Mental Health First Aid training, it is not a requirement in Illinois. According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, there is an Illinois law that states teachers must take a course every two years to help them identify “the warning signs of mental health and substance use challenges in youth.”
More on Public Act 102-197
The law clearly states that “a school district may utilize the Illinois Mental Health First Aid training program” to fulfill the requirement of regular training “to identify the warning signs of mental illness, trauma, and suicidal behavior in youth” and to learn proper intervention and referral techniques. The Illinois State Board of Education has access to the course through various grant opportunities.
It is encouraging to note that young people are becoming more vocal about their mental health. It is also promising to see that adults are being given the tools they require, allowing them to not only learn how to identify mental health issues in young people, but provide them with the resources to assist these students in dealing with their issues. The days of coping alone with some form of mental health problems are slowly disappearing. Plus, with these programs reaching children at the school level, it means that they can also learn to look after each other. Treating mental health is a collaborative effort, and it is comforting to see that is still the case.