Outreach: Mental Health First Aid

A group of teenagers listen as their friend talks about a difficult time in his life.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that we are experiencing a mental health crisis in our country. The National Alliance for Mental Illness reports that one in five teens and young adults are currently living with a mental health condition, a figure which may be higher as many cases go unreported. We at Outreach are seeing young people navigate unprecedented stressors, including a lack of personal connection as a result of social media and isolation due to COVID; continued school violence; increasing issues with bullying and cyberbullying; and an overwhelmingly negative social and political climate.

Adults want to help alleviate these pressures, but often don’t know where to start. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)-Youth, which is now being offered by Outreach Teen & Family Services, can be the first step.

MHFA teaches adults to identify the common signs and symptoms of mental health and substance abuse challenges among children and adolescents. The goal is not to diagnose, but merely to assess and help young people take the necessary steps to get the help they need.

The curriculum can be completed in one day and follows a five-step action plan (ALGEE):

• Assess for risk of suicide/harm

• Listen non-judgmentally

• Give reassurance and information

• Encourage appropriate professional help

• Encourage self-help and other support strategies

Through these steps, adults learn to interact with youth in non-crisis and crisis situations. Any adult who has regular contact with children and teens—parents, teachers, coaches and guidance counselors—are good candidates for MHFA training.

The goal of MHFA’s governing organization, the National Council for Well Being, is to see as many people trained in MHFA as in first aid and CPR.

Conducting the training for Outreach is Kelly Gyurina, a full-time mother of three and volunteer community member who has a passion for making a difference in the lives of those who struggle with mental health issues, diagnoses and crises, particularly children, adolescents and teens. She is always searching for new ways to support our communities’ youth and places an emphasis on prevention methods for mental health issues. Seeking a way to make an immediate impact, Kelly found the Mental Health First Aid program through a quick internet search and within two months completed the necessary training to become an instructor for the program.

Gyurina will be offering MHFA-Youth training for Outreach at the Bethel Park Community Center in April and May, as well as the Castle Shannon Library in September. To set up a training, contact Outreach’s program manager, Maggie Zangara, mzangara@outreachteen.org. Call us at 412-561-5405 or visit our website for more information about other services we provide.

Outreach is a community counseling agency offering services to young people ages 5-21. We provide training to numerous institutions and organizations including schools, universities, libraries, and community centers. The training provides language and tools to help someone in distress and works to break down the barriers people often encounter when talking about suicide.

Please note that Outreach does not offer crisis services or response and does not have evening and weekend on-call coverage. In an emergency, please go to your local emergency room or call RESOLVE at 1- 888-796-8226.

Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth ages 5 to 21, parents and families in a welcoming environment.
 412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.