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Youth Mental Health First Aid training planned to take place at MCH

  • Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker will co-facilitate a Youth Mental Health First Aid training at Monadnock Community Hospital on Jan. 18. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/6/2020 8:55:19 PM

Ed Walker knows the uncertain feelings that come with having a child that struggles with mental health.

The now 20-year-old daughter of the Peterborough Fire Chief was placed on the autism spectrum as a young child and later diagnosed with schizophrenia, before a more defined diagnosis of Schizoaffective disorder in her teenage years.

Things are good now for Walker’s daughter, but as he put it, “it’s been a long six years.”

Having lived through the symptoms, doctor visits, the unknown, the diagnosis – and all that comes with it – Walker uses his experiences to offer a first-hand account to participants of the Youth Mental Health First Aid program. Walker has taught the program that introduces the unique risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents to school staff and will be leading the program with JoAnn Fletcher, a ConVal High School counselor, at Monadnock Community Hospital on Saturday, Jan. 18.

Mental health in teens has been a big topic of discussion after two students, one from the ConVal Regional School District and another from Conant High School, died from self-inflicted injuries since the start of the school year. Changes in adolescents can be hard to pinpoint as signs of mental health issues with a long list of normal changes that come with growing up also taking place at the same time.

“There could just be something going on at home or going on at school,” Walker said. “The list (of warning signs) can be the same.”

The free training, which is one day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., is sponsored by the Greater Monadnock Medical Reserve Corps and funded through a System of Care grant to give parents, family members, volunteers, school personnel a better understanding of how to identify the warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents and ways to help an adolescent experiencing a mental health challenge.

“As adults we have a lot of framework and references for what we’re feeling,” Walker said. “Youth don’t have that background.”

Walker said the training is designed for anyone who deals with youth and the goal is to normalize the discussion about mental health.

The training originated in Australia and follows the ALGEE plan: Assess for risk of suicide or harm; Listen non-judgmentally; Give reassurance and information; Encourage appropriate professional help and Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

Walker said he got connected with the program when it was first introduced in the area and trainers were being sought. Considering his family background and his work with the Peterborough Fire Department, where he comes in contact with a lot of people, it made sense for him to get behind the training.

“So not only do I have the perspective of a first responder, but I’ve lived it as a parent,” Walker said.

The main thing Walker tries to get across is that there’s not a quick solution or easy answer. “It’s incredibly complicated,” he said.

And Walker stressed that participants won’t be experts when they walk out of the training. It’s about being informed and knowing what to look for that can be the best thing for a child that is struggling.

“It will give you a comfort level to approach those things,” Walker said.

While mental health in teens has been at the forefront of concern after the tragic losses to the ConVal and Conant school communities, mental health as a whole is a conversation that needs to be furthered.

Cait Murphy, a licensed clinical mental health counselor and owner of Eden Living in Hancock, said the signs that someone is struggling  with mental health can be difficult – because thoughts, moods and behaviors are involved. Murphy said that with physical health, its obvious if someone is dealing with something like a cold or flu. And mental health can also be affected by physical health, most notably stemming from problems with nutrition, sleep, hormones, thyroid, toxin exposures.

Some of the first signs of mental health concerns are in behavior changes, Murphy said. If someone isn’t acting like “themselves” or have mood changes, like overly tearful, anxious, irritable, or angry for no apparent reason it’s time to pay attention. If they stop doing what they once enjoyed, withdraws or isolates beyond heathy alone time, has changes in sleep (too much or too little) or appetite, or has self-harming behavior (unexplained cuts/bruises/burns) or reckless/dangerous behavior, then it’s time to address the situation.

“A mental health concern can turn into an illness – (just like our physical health) if symptoms go unchecked, and worsen  to the point that it begins to affect a person’s ability to function in areas of their life – self care, job or school, relationships, or ability to enjoy life,” Murphy said. “I think it is  so important to consider any “symptom” or concern in context. We all have stressors; we all can have “bad” or “off” days. When the response to stress is out of balance – or those  bad days are consistent or turn into weeks or longer, then, its concerning.”

Murphy knows that the idea of being weak or embarrassed can be a factor that discourages people from seeking help, but said it’s not about weak but being effective with a problem. Murphy said to think of mental illness like your car; if your car is not functioning properly and you can’t fix it yourself, wouldn’t you seek out a mechanic? “Of course. That’s not weak – it’s smart,” she said.

“When society as a whole can normalize taking care of our mental wellness as we do our physical wellness, then we will make progress,” Murphy said. “We don’t judge someone for being in the hospital with cancer and undergoing chemo – yet if your struggling with depression and end up in the hospital for it – people can still experience shame and stigma. This shouldn’t be. The illness or disease is just in a different area of the human being.”

Murphy said being proactive, not reactive is important. As in physical health, she said, a concern can turn into something more serious if not addressed.

The best way to approach someone you’re concerned about is to show care and concern, Murphy said.

“Don’t shove a Google diagnosis under their nose. Remember; sometimes because we are afraid for our loved ones, we can act from a place of fear instead of love, then people get defensive on both sides,” she said. “...Timing is everything. Pick a convenient and polite time so the person can hear you. Give the person the message that you love and care from them; It’s not about judgment, blame or accusation. Ask, be curious, then listen.”

“Simply stating ‘maybe it would be helpful to talk to someone about this’ or ‘have you considered talking to someone about this?’ Often, they have. They just find it difficult to make that first step or find it over whelming. You can offer to look up some names and provide them with options if they wish. Ask how, if you can be helpful,” Murphy said.

To register for the training, email Michael Greenough at no later than Jan. 9.

Some local and national resources for those struggling with mental illness or thoughts of self-harm include:

The Grapevine:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 from anywhere in the US

NAMI New Hampshire:

The River Center:

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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