Addressing the teen mental health crises in a surprising way
Our nation faces a provider shortage in the mental health field at the exact same time that our nation’s youth are suffering from an epidemic of mental health illnesses. The CDC says that 80% of youth who need treatment have no access to a specialized mental health provider. Additionally, it takes years for people to qualify as mental health counselors, psychologists or psychiatrists, meaning this problem cannot be solved quickly. With so much need and not enough available care, we need alternatives to help our teens cope.
One such alternative is a training program called Teen Mental Health First Aid, which is designed to empower teens age 15-18 to step up for one another. The training teaches youth to recognize the warning signs of various mental health challenges and help their peers through a mental health crisis.
While it might seem strange to encourage teens to help each other through something as serious as a panic attack or suicidal thoughts, the benefits of this program has been supported by scientific studies. In teens, the training has been proven to increase mental health literacy and reduce reported psychological distress. In one randomized controlled trial, teens reported a significantly higher level of confidence in helping a friend who was anxious or suicidal, as well as a lower stigma around mental illness, and were also more likely to choose the correct, helpful course of action. Additionally, educating teens can help significantly since it’s very common for young people in distress to first turn to a friend rather than an adult.
Teen Mental Health First Aid teaches teens:
- Common signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges.
- How to open a conversation about mental health.
- What actions to take and what to say if a friend or peer is facing a mental health crisis.
- How and when to involve a parent or other responsible and trusted adult.
Just as first aid training doesn’t make someone a doctor, Mental Health First Aid participants are not certified to provide therapy. But the course helps them act as first responders — to assess a situation, do what they can in the moment and inform a trusted adult. The curriculum covers anxiety and panic disorders, depression, suicidality, eating disorders, addiction and other common mental health concerns for this age group. It trains teens in the appropriate actions to take if a friend shows warning signs of a developing problem, plunges into acute crisis or is recovering.
Visit MHFA.org/Teens for more information or to sign up for a virtual class.
As our nation continues to struggle with a mental health epidemic, it’s important that we enlist the entire community in promoting mental well-being, prevention and early intervention. We encourage everyone to become more educated in mental health topics.