TPCHD Launches Youth Mental Health First Aid Project

There are several ways to look at the situation.

On the one hand, it’s heartening to see so many young people in Pierce County comfortable talking about the importance of mental health, defying the decades of stigma that have followed experiences of depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts.

On the other hand, what children tell us can be shocking and heartbreaking:

They need help and they don’t know where to find it.

This is perhaps the biggest takeaway from a new pilot project launched by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Described as mental health first aidAccording to Elizabeth Allen, TPCHD’s Behavioral Health Policy Coordinator, the goal is simple: to provide teens with the tools they need to identify signs of crisis or substance use disorder in their friends and peers. classroom, then equip them with the skills they need to intervene and respond.

It’s something young people in Pierce County have been asking for since long before COVID-19, Allen told The News Tribune, which is sadly illuminating — and also what makes the pilot’s potential so powerful.

Our children are crying out for help. The least we can do is listen.

“We’ve heard from young people for many years that they want more mental health resources, (and) more mental health support,” Allen said on Friday, explaining that the TPCHD pilot project will focus on the 7,000 10th graders in Pierce County Public Schools. , hoping to launch courses taught by certified mental health first aid professionals by early next year.

Whether it’s just lending a ear or helping someone connect to existing mental health resources — or knowing when to involve a trusted adult — Allen said the big idea is to help. children to recognize potential mental health problems among their peers, before it’s too late.

“Young people are very worried. They are concerned about their mental health, as well as the mental health of others,” Allen said. “So we want to do something about it.”

Basically, do something this — the ongoing behavioral health crisis in the county and the historical lack of services available, whether those services are for adults or children — is something we should all wish for. It was also the impetus for the passage of the county’s 1/10th of 1% behavioral health sales tax, which was finally approved by a super majority of the county council in December 2020 after years of controversial debates.

According to Allen, TPCHD’s mental health first aid pilot project will be funded by $600,000 in tax revenue. Asked why it took so long to create a mental health first aid program for children in Pierce County, Allen said the funding provided by the new tax helped make it possible.

After more than two years of COVID-19, this is money that could hardly be better spent. Although the lack of mental health resources for young people in Pierce County predates the pandemic, there is no doubt that the isolation, uncertainty, illness and death caused by COVID-19 have exacerbated the problem. .

Nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2021 survey of high school students across the country found that 37% said having poor mental health during the pandemicand 44% said they had felt constantly sad or hopeless in the past year.

Closer to home, by the end of 2020, local hospital emergency rooms — including the ER at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma — were already reporting a massive increase in mental health-related visits.

According to Allen, it’s a troubling trend that has yet to dissipate. Today, more than half of local 10th graders report feeling sad or depressed almost every dayshe says.

While Allen acknowledged it won’t solve every problem or prevent every crisis, she’s optimistic about the difference mental health first aid training can make for local high school students.

If all goes well, Allen said TPCHD would look to expand the project to other grade levels in the future, and also include more youth-serving organizations, like nonprofits and faith groups. .

The reality, she says, is that there is no time to waste.

“It’s so encouraging to see young people speaking out and talking about their mental health,” Allen said.

“Now we just have to do our part.”

Matt Driscoll is a columnist for the News Tribune and the newspaper’s opinion editor. A recipient of the McClatchy President’s Award, Driscoll is passionate about Tacoma and strives to tell stories that otherwise would not be told.

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