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FHS, Rice County partner to help adults recognize mental health concerns in teens

Lonsdale Area News-Review - 9/1/2017

Mental health conditions affect one in five teens and young adults, half by age 14. And despite the fact that a majority of Americans have access to mental health care; 80 percent are reportedly left with insufficient treatment or no treatment at all.

The Rice County Mental Health Collective and local school districts are working together to help people recognize the symptoms of mental illness in teenagers as early as possible. For anyone. Free of charge.

"The class basically gives participants skills they need to identify, understand and respond to a sign that an adolescent may be having a mental health crisis, developing a mental health problem," Collective Coordinator James Coulter said.

"It's like a CPR first-aid class, not teaching you to be a surgeon, but to be that Band Aid until professional help can arrive. It's about you being there for that young person until you can refer them on to a mental health professional."

Faribault Community Education is hosting four sessions of Youth Mental Health First Aid class, run by the Rice County collective, this September, October, November and December. The origins of the two-day, four-hours-per-day class date back to 2014, when RCMHC and Northfield Public Schools were awarded a Project AWARE grant, allowing the program to be offered all over Rice County.

According to Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, the rate of depression in youth in the United States rose from 8.5 percent in 2011 to 11.1 percent in 2014.

MHA statistics show that Minnesota has the lowest prevalence of mental illness and highest rates of access to care for youth among all 50 states. However, Minnesota is just about at the national average (11 percent) of youth between ages 12 and 17 that have reported at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

Coulter said the class, which has been attended by people such as youth group leaders, middle and high school teachers and law enforcement officers, focuses on identifying symptoms of a mental illness.

"To generalize, the first four hours (are about) learning the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis, mental health disorder; how to differentiate (it from normal teen behavior). It's all learning about mental illnesses ? and it's not just sitting and listening. There's a lot of group work, individual work. It's very participatory," Coulter said.

"The second Saturday, it's all about action. What do you do when you first notice these signs in adolescents? There's role playing, group activities, little (video) snippets they watch."

There is room for 30 participants in each class, and due to the Project AWARE grant, and contributions from District One Hospital and Allina Health, there is no cost to attend. To register, visit the Faribault Community Education website,, and click on "Adult and Youth Enrichment" and then "Youth Mental Health First Aid."

So far, more than 550 Rice County residents have been trained through Project AWARE. Coulter hopes that those who attend not only are able to help youth facing a crisis in the future, but also to raise awareness on the issue.

"It not only teaches you how to respond to a situation where an adolescent may be experiencing a mental health issues, but it also overall helps to educate not just you but others," Coulter said. "You'll know what mental illness is, how common it is, (and you'll) help reduce stigma ? raising awareness across the board makes it easier to talk about."


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