BLOOMSBURG—Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania’s McDowell Institute is partnering with the Greater Susquehanna Valley (GSV) United Way and the Behavioral Health Alliance of Rural Pennsylvania (BHARP), System of Care Grant to provide Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) to local schools.
Youth Mental Health First Aid is the help offered to a youth developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis until the child receives appropriate treatment and support or until the crisis is resolved.
Schools across the Commonwealth are increasingly exploring training of teachers along with other school staff in YMHFA to build their capacity to meet the needs of their students. With as many as one in five adolescent age student in America’s schools experiencing social, emotional or behavioral health challenges this partnership is committed to making this important training as common as CPR. Just as CPR training helps a person with no clinical training assist an individual following a physical health problem such as a heart attack, YMHFA training helps a person assist a student experiencing emotional distress or a mental health crisis such as contemplating suicide. In both situations, the goal is to help support the youth until appropriate professional help is provided.
Increasingly Pennsylvania schools provide training in YMHFA in response to the requirements associated with suicide prevention reflected in Act 71. In June 2014, Act 71 was signed codifying school-based suicide prevention in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The local partnership makes access to YMHFA training available to schools during the 2017-18 school year. The McDowell Institute has been providing YMHFA training the past few years to school systems across the Commonwealth including the Diocese of Harrisburg.
Livia Riley, the superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Harrisburg, says the YMHFA training is very important. “We are seeing more and more mental health issues relating to our students,” said Riley. “We wanted to give our educators the tools to identity and assist their students and also, to provide our educators, students and families with resources.
Helping to facilitate the relationships between school districts and the McDowell Institute has been Joanne Troutman, president and CEO of the GSV United Way.
“The McDowell Institute has the expertise in this area,” said Troutman. “GSV United Way has the relationships with various entities, while BHARP has the resources and a vested interest in seeing this training be delivered.”
Troutman continued, “Recognizing mental health related challenges and learning how to handle them is paramount for teachers. Rural schools don’t always have the resources and experts to address challenges that come their way, so it’s important for as many educators to be trained as possible.”
Bloomsburg University is the first teacher preparatory program in the Commonwealth to comprehensively require YMHFA training for its pre-service education majors before student teaching (e.g., the McDowell Institute has provided YMHFA training for close to 300 student teachers the past couple of years). YMHFA training is being planned for schools in Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties through this partnership.
Bloomsburg University is one of 14 universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. The university serves approximately 9,600 students, offering comprehensive programs of study in the colleges of Education, Business, Liberal Arts and Science and Technology.