As Executive Director of CASA for Kids of South Central Texas, I feel it is vital to continue to grow with our staff and volunteers, so I planned Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training for our staff, volunteers and community for Spring 2020. Then COVID-19 changed everything and the training was put on hold.
But that wasn’t the end of it. While in–person training was no longer an option, my MHFA Instructor, Jody Schulz, offered the training to CASA for Kids virtually. After several months of waiting for the best time to offer the course, given all the uncertainty with our new normal, we finally scheduled a Saturday session in October.
The ability to stay connected virtually is both a blessing and a curse, and I will be honest and tell you, I was Zoomed out. As the class approached, I considered asking Jody if I could join another class at a later time. Thankfully, I continued with the training as scheduled.
What I learned during the Youth MHFA training were not only relevant, but vital, skills to cultivate. The MHFA Action Plan (ALGEE) helps us notice and be fully present when we interact with others. I know that I am not to diagnose others, but instead to observe changes in behavior. Very quickly, it became very clear that people with MHFA training serve as a vital link to early intervention.
The same day I completed the Youth Mental Health First Aid training, I was able to put it into practice. A friend reached out and did not sound like herself. I knew things had been tough with her family because of COVID-19, but I didn’t realize how tough. As we spoke, I began to use the tools I learned — including ALGEE. I listened nonjudgmentally to her heart and fears. I gave reassurance that she was not alone and I told her I was thankful she was talking to me about how she felt.
In our training, I learned to ask if she had or was planning to harm herself. She said that she had been having those thoughts, but not at that particular moment. I asked her if she was thinking of killing herself, and again, she said she had been having those thoughts but not at that very moment. It felt odd to ask her if she had thought about how she would do it, but she opened up, and her breathing actually became lighter. It was almost as if she had been holding her breath, waiting for someone to just ask. She said she had not gotten as far as to think of how or where — just somewhere away from her kids was all she knew. I thanked her for her vulnerability and rawness, and then we talked about getting help.
I asked if she had a trusted counselor she could call. I asked if she had reached out to Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority (MHMRA) in Harris County for help. I assured her I had a wonderful contact with MHMRA, and I would call her right back with the name and number of someone she could call that day. She did reach out, and she got resources.
My friend was able to change her story that day, and every day after, she’s made the choice to continue to change the outcome. Without my Youth MHFA training, this story could have had a very different ending.
I am sincerely grateful for Jody Schulz and how she worked so hard to get CASA for Kids the training we so desperately needed, especially when the world was upside down. And I am also thankful to have taken Youth Mental Health First Aid this year. I believe it is truly vital for all of us as the world continues to change.