Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency

A testimony to Youth Mental Health First Aid training

One in five people struggle with mental illness. That statistic is real for Cassie Bardole, who struggles with anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder.  Her reflections and realizations in recovery are chronicled in her blog entitled, ”A Journey of Becoming.” She drew on those personal experiences while participating in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training in June 2019.

“People just don’t know what to say when they find out my story,” Bardole said. “When I talk about it, it makes people uncomfortable, and they don’t know how to ask questions or even if they should.”

Bardole teaches sixth grade social studies at Greene County Community School District in Jefferson. On one of the last days before school dismissed for summer break, the district offered YMHFA training to all its teachers. These trainings are free and provided by certified trainers at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency (PLAEA).While she wasn’t sure what to expect, Bardole came with an open mind wearing a sweatshirt that said, “Hope.”

The content of the training centers on what signs to look for, how to talk to a student that is showing those signs, and strategies that students can use during times of crisis and struggle. It also offers teachers tools to take care of themselves and each other. Another important piece of the training is addressing misconceptions and stereotypes, and knowing how to respond when hearing someone say they are thinking about suicide or hurting themselves.

“That training is intense,” she said. “Anyone who has kids or works with kids should take it. As a teacher, it is so valuable because it gives the tools to support students.”

Through the strategies taught in this training, teachers have a consistent process and structure to help a student in a crisis situation. If a student says he/she is going to kill or hurt themselves, it is taken seriously. Teachers follow up with students to learn more about what’s going on and to make sure they get help.

“I think our kids feel supported and I’ve noticed there are fewer of those comments,”  Bardole said. “I’ve also been able to show students strategies to use when they’re feeling frustrated. They know we’re listening to them and taking what they say seriously.”

YMHFA trainings are free and offered across Iowa through the nine Area Education Agencies. This extensive professional development was part of a 2019 legislative funding appropriation targeted to address the mental needs of school-aged children. PLAEA has trained almost 350 educators since July 2019.  More trainings are planned through June 2020 with over 225 educators are expected to attend. 

Prairie Lakes AEA is offering these free trainings to anyone, not just educators, who works with adolescents.  Click here to learn more. 

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