MECS Blog

Teen Mental Health First Aid

Teen Mental Health First Aid

Thursday, 15 November 2018  | Karissa - Assistant Principal - Secondary

‘Look, Ask, Listen, Help Your Friend’

I often speak to the people I know about my ‘kill the cold and flu routine’: as soon as I get that slight scratchy-throat feeling, I am into my routine…
1. Betadine throat gargle
2. Echinacea and zinc supplements
3. Lemon and ginger herbal tea
4. Plenty of fluids and
5. Rest (when possible).
The truth is, I have had very few major colds/flu when I have followed this method, or it has seriously reduced the recovery time… It’s about getting in early, before the symptoms take hold or the infection sets in.

After all, it is much easier to treat a sniffle and a sore throat than to let it turn into a more serious infection…

So what about our mental health?

What are we doing to ‘get in early’ and keep ourselves (and our friends) healthy?

And what are we doing as a school to ensure that our students are equipped to do the same?

Adolescence is a period of great change for all young people and can entail a range of physical, social, emotional and academic challenges. It is a time when young people are establishing their identities, seeking greater independence, transitioning into adulthood and often facing pressures from both school and social environments.

It is also the peak age of onset for many mental health disorders...

In 2017 Mission Australia[1] conducted its 16th annual survey of young people aged 15-19. With over 24,000 young people surveyed, the findings give rise for concern:

One in four young people are at risk of serious mental illness, becoming most prevalent in the older teen years[2]

Over 80% of young people experiencing issues or concern with their mental health (even clinical level), would turn to their peers or the internet before speaking to an equipped adult or professional[3]

Whilst adolescents have a preference for seeking help from peers, they are often ill-equipped to provide effective support when a friend has a mental health problem

Encouraging a peer with a mental health problem to seek out adult help was not always endorsed by an adolescent

Whilst adolescence can be a particularly challenging time for young people, it is also a period in which there is great potential to provide prevention and early intervention services and supports to improve mental health and wellbeing. By intervening early, improving knowledge around mental health and encouraging help-seeking behaviour, it may be possible to not only circumvent the short term detrimental effects of mental health disorders, but also to safeguard young people from longer term, ongoing cycles of dysfunction and disadvantage that may result when mental health disorders remain untreated into adulthood.4

With these above studies in mind, and in connection with Yarra Ranges Youth, MECS Secondary School has developed a plan to have all students trained in Mental Health First Aid.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is defined as the help provided to a person who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis, until appropriate professional help is received or the crisis resolves.

In Semester 2, the Year 10 and Year 7 students have taken part in the Teen Mental Health First Aid course, with our hope being that by the end of 2020 every student in the Secondary School will have experienced the course, and will be better equipped to know how to respond to a mental health crisis if, or more likely when, they are confronted with one.

During the course, focus for students is placed on connecting their friends to an appropriate adult who can help. Students are instructed on the importance of speaking up to keep their friends safe and are taught practical application of the Teen Mental Health First Aid Action Plan:

Look for warning signs

Ask how they are

Listen up

Help them connect to an adult

Your friendship is important

The course does not talk about specific problems or teach students how to diagnose problems. Rather, it presents advice about being a supportive friend, encouraging their friend to seek help, and knowing when it’s time to get an adult involved.

And how can you help?

If you know of a young person (or older person) struggling with mental health concerns… Talk with them about the options for help available and perhaps offer to help them make contact with a health service, or attend the first appointment if that helps them feel reassured… let’s turn talking about our mental health concerns into something as common place as our sore throats and runny noses.

1 Whilst the Mission Australia survey focussed on young people aged from 15 to 19, broader studies in mental illness, self harm and suicide indicate that many young people begin exhibiting or feeling signs of distress and concern around age 12.

2 Youth Mental Health Report 2012-2016

3 Mission Australia Youth Survey Report – 2017.

4 Youth Mental Health Report 2012-2016


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