Program graduates do not counsel, they intervene and refer to professional help

By William K. Alcorn


Training programs that help lay people recognize risk factors and warning signs of mental-health problems in adolescents and adults work, say participants.

Separate, eight-week training courses – Youth Mental Health First Aid and Adult Mental Health First Aid – taught by certified instructors do not qualify graduates to counsel people in crisis.

But they do train participants, such as parents, grandparents and clergy and teachers, to recognize people with mental-health problems and intervene by getting them professional help, said Duane J. Piccirilli, executive director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, one of the agencies sponsoring the programs.

“Just like Red Cross, first aid is a life-saving tool for people without formal medical training, Mental Health First Aid training programs provide people who are not professional counselors with the skills needed to recognize someone with a mental -health or substance-abuse issue and intervene,” Piccirilli said.

“This permits virtually any member of the community to act as a needed bridge and/or support system to assist someone until they can be referred to a professional,” he said.

There is evidence that the training of both programs works, said certified mental-health first aid instructors Anita Williams, Jennifer Hunt and Aimee Schweers.

Schweers, administrative assistant/prevention trainer for MCMHRB, teaches adults to recognize adults with mental-health issues, including first responders and public-safety workers such as police and fire personnel.

Among Schweers’ graduates is the Rev. Dr. Sherman Moore, a re-entry specialist with the Youngstown Urban Minority Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Outreach Program.

“I see daily opportunities to apply the training at the store, at home and in my church,” said the Rev. Mr. Sherman, who also is certified through the Youth Mental Health First Aid program.

“The programs’ training benefits the community by providing information for lay persons to identify people with mental-health issues and intervene by directing them to the professional resources they need. I apply it personally to family and friends. It’s about being your brother’s keeper,” said Mr. Sherman, a pastor at the Faith Fellowship Church of God.

Williams and Hunt are counselors with Alta Behavioral Healthcare, formerly D&E Counseling, a nonprofit agency that provides professional care to children, teens and their families, and has a contract to train Youngstown City Schools personnel in the risk signs of emotional and mental-health problems.

Williams and Hunt work primarily in Alta’s Classroom Connections Program, which provides behavioral-health consultation and therapeutic treatment services in Youngstown City Schools and other school districts across the state.

“The training provides hands-on training in techniques to recognize mental-health problems in youths. We are passionate about training anyone and everyone who interacts with adolescents,” Hunt said.

During an interview, the three counselors gave examples of how information from the classes were used.

Williams said a woman took one of her youth mental-health first-aid training classes because she worked with young people and wanted to know what to do.

“She thanked me for the information that she used to help her teenage son,” Williams said.

Alta also conducts classes around the state supported by Miami (Ohio) University and the Ohio Mental Health Network for School Success, a program that helps schools, community agencies and families work together by providing promotions, evaluations, technical assistance, training webinars, information briefs and six regional networks of support through Project AWARE Ohio.

The reason there are separate youth and adult Mental Health First Aid is because the warning signs are different in different age groups.

People who wish to be part of an Adult Mental Health First Aid Class should contact Aimee Schweers at the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board at 330-746-2959; and persons interested in the Youth Mental Health First Aid class should contact Jamie Miller, Alta clinical director, at 330-793-2487.

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