ESU Student Teachers Certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid
It’s a hard subject to broach. It can be emotional, touchy and downright uncomfortable.
But Gina Scala, Ed.D., and Linda Van Meter, Ph.D., are doing everything in their power to bring awareness to the importance of mental health issues and suicide prevention to East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania students.
Dr. Scala, professor and chair of special education and rehabilitative and human services in ESU’s College of Education, teamed up with Dr. Van Meter, director and licensed psychologist of ESU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and organized a training seminar that was so well received, it will be considered mandatory for all ESU education majors moving forward.
With September being Suicide Awareness Month, Scala called on two mental health experts at Bloomsburg University along with ESU counterparts Van Meter and psychologist Jennifer Young, Ph.D., to conduct an eight-hour seminar for those ESU students currently doing their student teaching.
On September 1, 37 ESU student teachers along with four ESU staff members became certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid. Those individuals can now recognize the signs and symptoms and provide reassurance and information to those affected by mental health issues.
The course explored common mental health challenges for youth, reviewed typical adolescent development and taught a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered included anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD) and eating disorders.
“There is an increase in mental health issues rising among young children,” Scala said. “We have a responsibility to provide appropriate, accurate current information to our students as they enter the field.”
While this certification isn’t required nationally to graduate, moving forward, Scala said ESU will make taking this seminar mandatory. It will be offered in the beginning of every semester. And while it may seem like a great deal of time to designate to one training session, Scala pointed out that even if ESU didn’t require it now, it will be required by the state after graduation in order to make their teaching certification valid.
“This is not negotiable,” she said. “It’s critically important.”
Van Meter agreed wholeheartedly, and was thrilled when Scala wanted to collaborate, especially considering the number of young people affected by mental health issues. Van Meter said nearly 32 percent of those ages 13-18 are affected by anxiety disorders, with 22 percent of those individuals being severely impacted; half of all mental disorders began by age 14 and about 75% of mental illnesses are diagnosed by the age of 24.
“It is very important for our future educators to be able to detect mental health problems in youth earlier than later to ensure support and treatment,” Van Meter added.
Training program such as this coincide with all of Van Meter’s efforts in helping to raise awareness about mental health and suicide. The student organization Active Minds will host a “Walk in Our Shoes” event on campus in late September to raise mental health awareness, reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and encourage students to seek help.
ESU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) 7th Annual Mental Health Awareness Day rolls around on October 26, always held the Thursday before Halloween. Van Meter arranged for CAPS to offer depression screenings for students attending this event. Students will be able to participate in interactive exhibits to learn about mental health wellness and illness; therapy dogs, acupuncture and massage therapists will also be available to students.
The conversation continues on Tuesday, September 19 at 7:30 p.m. when CAPS will host Minding Your Mind speaker Andrew Onimus in Abeloff Center for the Performing Arts. In his presentation, “Be the One: A Student Athlete’s Journey from Depression to Recovery,” Onimus will discuss his fall as a stand-out student athlete whose injury left him sidelined and battling major clinical depression and severe anxiety.
“Students benefit from hearing a peer who has struggled with mental illness and through the recovery process,” Van Meter said. “CAPS outreach programming helps to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, encourages help-seeking in students and reinforces healthy stress relieving practices. This year will be the second year for the Pause for Paws program with therapy dogs on campus three times a week where students can focus on stress relief while enjoying the company of a therapy dog.”
After attending a conference about animal assisted therapy, Van Meter is investigating the possibility of adding that to services offered by CAPS, which has been shown to can reduce anxiety in college students.
There’s no doubt that Van Meter and Scala are doing everything they can to bring awareness to mental health issues, encourage counseling and to help prevent suicide.