When Tyler Ramos received his certification in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA), he did not expect to save someone’s life the very next day. As a Communities in Schools site coordinator at a local high school in the Tri-Cities, Washington, Ramos works with students on a regular basis. But when a student came in seeming out of sorts, Ramos recalled the training he just completed. He asked the student a series of questions and after receiving aloof responses, Ramos asked again if everything was okay. It was at this point the student confided they had just swallowed two bottles of prescription medication.
“What really stood out to me in the YMHFA training was the importance of asking at least three times,” says Ramos. “It was surreal. If I had stuck to my normal routine and didn’t ask again, I don’t know if I would have found out.” Ramos immediately notified an administrator and the student received medical attention soon after.
Founded in 2001, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a national program that trains people to identify and address mental illness and distress in youth and adults safely and responsibly. The Community Health department at Kadlec has partnered with Educational Service District (ESD) 123 since 2018 to provide Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) and Adult Mental Health First Aid (AMHFA) to community members.
“Mental Health First Aid is just as important as CPR,” says Kadlec’s Community Health Program Manager Karen Hayes. “It’s amazing how quickly Tyler was able to put his knowledge into practice.”
Seeking support for mental illness can be incredibly challenging for students. Particularly in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has added stress and isolated students from social circles and trusted adults with whom they confide. The MHFA program equips community members with tools to recognize someone in distress caused by mental illness, and appropriate resources to help them find support.
In 2020, COVID-19 restrictions placed limitations on the MHFA program nationwide. The organization needed time to shift its curriculum to an online platform, and several months went by where no one was trained. Virtual trainings, when they became available, were more capacity constrained than in-person trainings to allow for better personal connections, and as expected with this transition, technology made everything more challenging.
Remarkably, though, Kadlec’s partnership with ESD 123 made it possible to certify 102 community members in youth and adult MHFA during the pandemic. Through e-newsletters and direct outreach to community partners, they recruited and trained nearly the same number of people compared to the program’s first two years.
Ramos and his peers at Communities in Schools plan to recertify as needed to stay updated on tools and strategies to help their students. He says it was critical to have the insight and awareness he learned from MHFA while working with students. “I learned how to bridge the gap between identifying the issues and helping students get the services they need,” says Ramos. “The pandemic made it a lot harder for students to reach out about their issues, but it can save their life when they know someone is there to help. If someone seems off when you ask how they are, it’s okay to ask again.”