Foundation, Schools Partner On Youth Mental Health First Aid Training

As teachers headed back to school in Newtown this year they are better equipped to respond to specific students in need after participating in the first phase of Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training sponsored by the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, Inc.

Youth Mental Health First Aid is an internationally recognized, evidenced-based program that has been shown to save lives, expand knowledge of mental health and treatments, increase services provided, and reduce stigma associated with mental health challenges.

Individuals trained in the model report greater confidence in helping others, greater likelihood of advising people to seek professional help, and decreased stigmatizing attitudes.   

“As part of our public input process we heard repeatedly from teachers and school personnel that they wanted to be better equipped to recognize and respond to mental health concerns among their students”, said Jennifer Barahona, executive director of the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation. “Teachers and other school staff have their eyes and ears on our children the majority of the day and we wanted to support and empower them.”

Approximately 600 school staff completed the first part of the training before school started this past week. The remaining six hours of the training will be completed at a professional development day in November.

Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, extended “an enormous thank you” to the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation for funding a professional development opportunity for all staff.

“This type of opportunity — Mental Health First Aid — will allow our teaching staff to fully understand best strategies for a wide range of learners. I am pleased and proud of the partnership with the Community Foundation,” Dr Erardi said.

“Dr Erardi was an enthusiastic partner from the beginning and the Wheeler Clinic did an outstanding job organizing this incredible effort,” said Ms Barahona.

Wheeler, based in Plainville, received a grant award from the foundation to organize and conduct the trainings.

“This is a remarkable training initiative that involved the recruitment and coordination of 18 certified Youth Mental Health First Aid trainers statewide who led 24 small group sessions of approximately 25 participants each over the first three training days,” said Judith Stonger, vice president of prevention, wellness and recovery at Wheeler. “It is extremely gratifying to partner in providing this evidence-based training curriculum to the Newtown school administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff.”

Once fully trained, the school staff will join the 4,500 people in Connecticut and 250,000 across the United States who have been trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled that in less than two months this went from being a dream to reality,” said Ms Barahona. “There isn’t another school district in the country that we are aware of which has been able to train their entire staff at one time. To me, this speaks volumes about how committed this community is to the health and well-being of students in the district.” 

Trainings will also be offered throughout the community for those interested in being certified in either Adult or Youth Mental Health First Aid.

For more information visit www.nshcf.org.    

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