Community Coalition to host teen suicide prevention training

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 13, 2015

BEVERLY HILLS — “There’s a different type of pressure on kids these days to excel in everything. Even trying to get into college, the landscape has completely changed. They can get the right GPA, right ACT score, right community service and be a well-rounded athlete, and it still doesn’t guarantee that they’re going to get into the school they want to,” said Carol Mastroianni, executive director of the Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition.

That kind of pressure would be enough for anyone, much less a young person trying to also juggle family and social life issues. Overwhelmed kids so often try to find an escape, sometimes in the form of drugs or alcohol, but in severe cases, suicide.

That’s unacceptable to Mastroianni and the rest of her team at the coalition, which is why the group is hosting several events this year to focus on teen mental health and suicide prevention.

On May 16, the group will host a workshop for adults to become certified Youth Mental Health First Aid responders. Mastroianni is certified herself and said there’s a lot to be learned from the program for all adults who are around young people ages 12-18.

“There’s been a big push in the state to focus on this, and they’ve provided dollars to a few different agencies, including TTI (Training and Treatment Innovations) in Troy, with the goal of getting X number of people to become certified trainers,” she explained. “What’s really behind this is the idea of early identification — the more people in the community who can become first aiders, the better.”

The workshop will aim to teach participants the warning signs of mental distress, from mild anxiety or depression to diagnosable mental illness. Those who become certified will not only be able to spot a problem before it becomes dangerous to the teens themselves or to others, they’ll know how to best approach the situation and where to go to get help.

Participants will get a “go-to” book of tips and resources, and will learn all about the mnemonic device ALGEE, which can guide them through a mental health crisis with another person. The device stands for:

Assess for risk of suicide or harm.

Listen nonjudgmentally.

Give reassurance and information.

Encourage appropriate mental health.

Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

Since suicide is now the second-leading cause of death in teenagers, Birmingham Public Schools Community Relations Director Marcia Wilkinson said the district is happy to lend its support, and in this case its facilities, to prevention efforts.

“Good mental health sets the tone for everything else. We must erase the stigma that has surrounded issues involving mental health, and education can help,” said Wilkinson in an email. “Our district is proud to be the site of this powerful program. As a school district, we must focus on the whole child, and mental and physical health are equally important to everyone’s well-being.”

Beth Tetrault is a Derby Middle School parent who has undergone the Youth Mental Health First Aid USA training. She knows how important it can be for young people to have adults in the community who can spot distress and reach out when needed.

“I learned at the Mental Health First Aid training that as many as one in five youths are severely impacted by mental health issues,” she said. “That means a lot of young people are having a hard time functioning in their daily lives. I’m glad that I now know the signs of mental illness and what I can do to help.”

The event is limited to around 30 participants, and while it’s free, pre-registration by May 15 is requested. For those who aren’t able to make it, Mastroianni knows the coalition won’t stop until all concerned parents get the information they need.

“(Stress) even impacts adults. Add to that the social media component, and these kids’ lives are 24/7 now. You used to be able to come home and have a break, but you can’t hide,” she said. “I personally believe if we can get to people sooner and notice when they’re not doing well — when we’re able to identify sooner if there’s a mental health issue or something else going on that they’re not coping with well — we can reduce our substance abuse numbers, our bullying numbers, everything.”

The Youth Mental Health First Aid responder training will be held from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. at the BPS Administration and Education Center, located at 31301 Evergreen Road in Beverly Hills. To register, call (248) 203-4615 or email lmckenzie@bbcoalition.org.