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Help Fight the Silence: Youth Mental Health First Aid

October 12, 2018 | Brooke Briggance | Originally posted on the FACES for the Future blog

It’s not something my family talked about much – at least not openly. But there have been members of my family who have committed suicide, who struggled with addiction or who tried desperately to manage a mental illness while shrouded in silence. As time marched on and I became an adult, it began to make less and less sense to me – the silence. I understood it, of course – it was part of my culture as it is with so many of us – but I struggle to be a part of it any more. There was so much stigma attached to these family members and their struggles that if those issues were discussed, it was always in hushed voices. And as I grew older I began to understand how silence itself contributes to the mental health problems individuals face, as well as those we face in our communities. I have learned stigma is dangerous and leaves people to suffer when there is help available if we could just get over the hushed voices.
Over time, I’ve seen our communities become more willing to talk – maybe it’s because we’ve all been touched by someone in our lives who has struggled with mental health over the years. Maybe we lost someone to suicide and we wonder if there was something we could have done differently when we saw they were hurting. Maybe it’s because mental health and our collective struggles with it are in the news nearly every day. Maybe its because we are fighting our own battle in silence but just haven’t found the way to tell someone our truth. Whatever the reasons, I’m grateful for the increased conversation because I believe it is really the only way we can help save lives.

To help fight the silence, this summer FACES Coalition Program Manager, Jasmine Nakagawa-Wong, and I took advantage of an opportunity offered by Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services and we became certified as trainers in Youth Mental Health First Aid.  That means we can train and certify adults connected to young people who want to be armed with some tools to help them if a serious mental health situation should arise.

It is no different than learning CPR – it’s potentially life-saving information and vital that we take on MHFA certification as we would any other community based public health effort.  We are all connected to youth – through our families, our work, our faith communities, our neighborhoods – even in public spaces.  It is incumbent upon us to do all we can to help them if a situation should arise. It can be a matter of life and death.

Do you know what you would say or do if a young person disclosed something sensitive to you? Do you know how to approach them if you have concerns about their behavior? Do you know what you would say to them if they admitted to you that they have thoughts of suicide or self-harm? Do you have a plan for how you would get them connected to professional help, when to call for that help immediately, how you would support them afterward or how anxiety or depression may present in someone who is say, 14 years old?  If you are a professional who works with youth, do you have answers for those questions for a youth you know in your personal life? If you’ve hesitated even once – I ask that you please consider getting certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid.

If you or a group you belong to are interested in getting certified, please call the FACES for the Future Coalition offices. The certification lasts for 3 years and is useful to those who work with youth professionally (e.g. educators, coaches, youth leaders) or those who just want to be better prepared to support the young people in their lives. We can walk you through options for certification and answer any questions you may have about the training. I have attended many trainings and I still found value in this certification – even as a parent of teens.

Help is possible. Recovery happens. And hope is real. These are true things.

But none of that occurs for a young person if we stay locked in silence, if we don’t do all we can to intervene, if we continue to hide behind stigma instead of coming together as a community to support our youth. Please help us support youth by considering certification.


Brooke Briggance is the Deputy Director of PHI's FACES for the Future Coalition