As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, the effects on our teens are far-reaching: Many have had extracurricular activities changed or cancelled, classes may be online and opportunities to be social have lessened.
Those day-to-day changes have had an impact, according to a teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) study. Preliminary data shows that approximately 87% of students report stress and problems resulting from the changes they’ve had to make in their lives because of COVID-19. It’s clear our teens need to feel supported, and they need to have access to resources that can help them cope.
That’s where tMHFA comes in. teen Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based public education program developed in Australia in 2015 by Dr. Laura Hart at the University of Melbourne and Dr. Claire Kelly at Mental Health First Aid Australia. The National Council for Mental Wellbeing brought tMHFA to the United States and adapted it for American audiences in 2019. tMHFA teaches teens in grades 10-12, or ages 15-18, how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges among friends and peers. It also encourages and teaches teens to get a responsible and trusted adult to step in.
The pandemic has complicated many aspects of our lives, and for teens this disruption can have long-lasting effects. Teens may be feeling stressed, agitated, anxious or worried. Juggling common problems during a pandemic is no easy feat, and teens need the support of one another and trusted adults now more than ever.
To tackle these tough issues, tMHFA encourages teens to create and implement self-care plans and to stay connected with their peers. The program includes real-life experiences from teens who have faced a mental health challenge. It is important for teens to understand that they are not alone, and support is available if they need it.
Research shows that prior to taking tMHFA, many teens faced situations where they wanted to help their peers but didn’t know what to do or say. But following the training, about 69% of teens said they used knowledge or skills learned from tMHFA to deal with stress and 66.7% used the skills they learned to help other people experiencing stress:
Since the training, I have been empowered to take a more active role in supporting those around me. When I see people struggling, I don’t just stand by and watch them sink into a pit of isolation. I use my training and go right there alongside them and be the person who listens to them and makes them feel less alone. – Drew Voris, teen Mental Health First Aider
Schools offering this training can save lives, families, and communities. Regardless of how happy, smart or popular someone seems on the outside, everyone is fighting battles we have no idea about. tMHFA taught me that sometimes we need a reminder of what is important and the tools to make that a priority. – Katie Ramboyong, teen Mental Health First Aider
I work to show how the systems and standards we have in place for gender and mental health are inherently broken, that we should not bend the system to accommodate for the few that don’t fit but instead rewrite the whole program so that every person fits, equally and unequivocally. This is what teen Mental Health First Aid helps to do, and why I believe in its mission so much: Kids can help educate each other so that we can help support each other. No one will be left behind. – Novak Chernesky, teen Mental Health First Aider
At a time when mental health is coming into the national spotlight, we cannot afford to leave teenagers out of the conversation. teen Mental Health First Aid offers national resources for teens to share with friends, and Instructors provide local resources as well. Together we can #BeTheDifference for the young people in our communities now and long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
Your school or youth-serving organization can bring teen Mental Health First Aid training to your community. For more information about tMHFA, visit MHFA.org/teens.
Judge Baker Children’s Center. (2020, September). Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Children, Youth and Families. Retrieved September 2021, from https://jbcc.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/impact_of_the_covid-19_pandemic_on_children_youth_and_families_.pdf.
Psych Congress Network. (2020, August). Long-term Effects of the Pandemic in Children and Adolescents. Retrieved September 2021, from https://www.hmpgloballearningnetwork.com/site/pcn/multimedia/long-term-effects-pandemic-children-and-adolescents.
Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). teen Mental Health First Aid USA: A manual for young people in 10th–12th grade helping their friends. National Council for Mental Wellbeing.