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High school student and Born This Way Foundation ambassador Alexa Branco talks about her experience taking a Mental Health First Aid course.

On a typical Tuesday, you can usually find me performing a number of tedious tasks, whether it’s trudging through work or cleaning my forever-messy room. However, Tuesday, August 11 was different—I found myself in the middle of New York City being trained in Mental Health First Aid alongside Cynthia Germanotta, co-founder of the Born This Way Foundation and mother of Lady Gaga. It was during the course of the program that I developed a stronger perspective of the importance of Mental Health awareness and how to assist someone struggling internally.

My experience with mental health began six years ago when I was going through a tough bullying situation and struggling with my extremely unhappy state. Although often depressed, I was able to work through this painful time thanks to my intensely supportive mother and the Born This Way Foundation. The latter of which offered me a chance to attend the Mental Health First Aid Course after having previously attended their inaugural Born Brave Youth Retreat.

During the Mental Health First Aid course, I was educated on how to respond to individuals developing a mental illness or in crisis. The mnemonic device “ALGEE” was used to help teach the five-point action plan. ALGEE stands for: assess for risk of suicide or harm, listen nonjudgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help, and encourage self-help and other support strategies. Together with other Foundation members I learned ALGEE through group discussions and partner activities. Simulated auditory hallucinations and situation games helped us see how we can respond to others in need in real life.

Having gone through the program, I can attest that Mental Health First Aid will help normalize mental health issues. As trainer Bryan Gibb said, “People are afraid of being labeled, so they may be afraid to speak out.” The course allows those who don’t struggle to replicate experiences and therefore sympathize with those who do suffer. Thanks to the Youth Mental Health First Aid course I now feel prepared to comfort and reassure those facing crisis and mental illness. There is little that is more important than assuring that our youth go on to live happy and fulfilling lives, free from harmful stigmas.

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