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Teachers receive youth mental health first aid training

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Ann Reddick and Cindy Ferry work on identifying behavioral actions of those with eating disorders, during a Trillium Health Resources mental health class to help workers identify better with those facing mental, developmental or substance abuse disorders, Wednesday morning.


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, August 9, 2018

When students at G.R. Whitfield School in Grimesland get in trouble in class, they often meet Cindy Siders, a teacher assistant and in-school suspension instructor. Their classroom teachers might send work for them to do, but Siders has other studies for those who do not.

“A lot of times it’s disrespectful behavior, not following classroom rules, putting their hands on another student or teacher or things of that nature that gets them sent to me,” Siders said. “ I’d like to be able to understand why they might be behaving poorly so I can help the students. And if I can pass that understanding to teachers it could help them manage their students more successfully.”

That is why Siders joined about 25 other teachers, teacher assistants, counselors and administrators Wednesday at E.B. Aycock Middle School in Greenville for a Youth Mental Health First Aid Training session. The eight-hour certification course through Greenville-based Trillium Health Resources is offered to adults who regularly interact with young people ages 12-18.

Trillium is the local governmental agency that manages mental health, substance use, and intellectual/developmental disability services in eastern North Carolina. Officials said the organization offers educational opportunities to help the public become more knowledgeable about these diagnoses and the services that support them, and reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.

Youth Mental Health First Aid is one such training opportunity. Trainers Misty Hiner and Amy Corbitt helped participants identify, understand and respond to signs of a mental health crisis or substance use disorder.

“Once they complete the course they realize how vital it is for staff beyond school resource officers or counselors to have this knowledge,” Corbitt said. “Having more teachers with this awareness builds a stronger team of support.”

Siders, a 25-year school system veteran who also is a bus driver, sometimes notices children’s crisis signs before they reach the classroom.

“They might get on the bus crying, so it might be something that happened at home,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just the look in their eyes or on their face that indicates something’s going on. My heart goes out to them and I want to help.”

Other signs of a mental health crisis in teens and pre-adolescents mentioned in the training materials include inability to cope with problems and participate in daily activities; changes in sleep and poor eating habits; excessive physical complaints or disorders; frequent angry outbursts and defiant behaviors; and thoughts of harming others or themselves

The training program, including information materials, role playing and action planning, teaches adult laypeople to recognize potential risk factors, connect with local resources, including counseling and therapy services and reduce the stigma attached to mental illness or substance use disorders.

Darryl Thomas, principal at E.B. Aycock, said he expects the program to highlight for his faculty and staff the degree that emotional and mental trauma affects the children they serve.

“The goal is to become more proactive rather than reactive to youth mental health issues,” Thomas said. “If we can arrange more remediation, more meetings with parents and more community involvement it will help professional educators work more effectively overall with our students.

“If we can’t even recognize the signs, then we’re just guessing,” he said. “This training will give us the tools to do that, allowing us to build better relationships with these students and maybe get them to open up more.” 

Wednesday’s session at Aycock was one of 15 Trillium will provide through Aug. 17 in six eastern counties, In addition to educators, some school resource officers and law enforcement officers also will take advantage of the training opportunity. 

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.