Who do teenagers confide in? Their friends, of course. So it makes sense to train them to identify signs of depression, anxiety and substance abuse in their peers.
“So it’s not just one day that a friend misses school, it’s a lot longer than what would be typical,” Vanessa Jansen, a board-certified mental health professional, told a class. 10th grade students at JC Bermudez Doral High School.
Students become what Miami-Dade County Public Schools call Teen Mental Health First Aiders. These classes are held in 18 high schools in the district and consist of three one-hour sessions.
“You don’t have to make a diagnosis,” Jansen told the class. “You are not trained to provide any type of intervention, you are there to know the signs and symptoms and to be able to support a friend, connect them with an appropriate trusted adult or professional help. “
The students seemed eager to assimilate the knowledge.
“I feel like it’s valuable because if you spot the signs, you can help someone who you know is also going through this, before they make a regrettable decision,” said student Sofia Alvarado.
“It will most likely be people who know there is someone who is already in trouble, they will have the extra push to go and help them,” added his classmate Raymon Perez.
The goal is to be proactive rather than reactive, according to Sally Alayon, who heads the district’s mental health department.
“So that they can understand what mental health is, maybe they’re feeling something, some changes, but what’s really important is that they learn to identify if their friend or peer is going through a type of mental health issue or even a crisis,” Alayon explained.
Jansen said 20% of teens will have a mental health issue before they turn 18. The children we met today are ready to help themselves and their peers overcome challenges.