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teen Mental Health First Aid Taught Me How to Save Lives

I wanted to help them. I wanted to say something. But, what could I do? What could I say?

When I lost one of my classmates to suicide, I had no clue what to do. Suddenly, so many lives were changed, and I saw my friends and peers start to fall apart. As they grieved and fought guilt and hopelessness, I felt helpless, too.

I wonder if that’s how Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta felt too? Stefani, who we know as Lady Gaga, was born in New York, NY, and comes from an Italian family. She has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Having opened up about her struggles with PTSD and other mental health problems in the world, Lady Gaga bravely shares her own personal story to give hope to those who find themselves in the dark places that she has been. With the goal to help empower others to do the same, Lady Gaga and her mother began the Born This Way Foundation with a mission to create a kinder and braver world. Last year, the Born This Way Foundation teamed up with the National Council for Behavioral Health to bring teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) to the United States to help combat teen suicide.

As I sat through one of the first trainings of tMHFA in the nation, I cried. To say that I cried is an understatement. I bawled. There were about 30 of us in the room, and, from the start, my peers began to open up about their own struggles. That day, I heard how my classmates had been abused, tossed from home to home, and traumatized throughout life. I had never felt less alone. In that classroom, I began to realize that everyone has a story that includes pain and struggles. And as we learn how to share our stories, we feel less helpless and more empowered.

That’s why tMHFA focuses on teen-to-teen intervention. This is based on the idea that when a teenager is going through a dark time, they are more likely to tell a peer than an adult.
Weeks before my classmate ended his life, he had told several friends about his thoughts of suicide. Sadly, through no fault of their own, these teens had no idea how to support him, and he is no longer with us. This is what tMHFA hopes to change. The goal of the training is to teach youth how to identify and respond to mental health and substance abuse problems by providing information and resources that they can use to help a friend in need.

I went into the training eager and ready to learn. I wanted to understand how I could help those around me when they needed me most. As I sat there with my Starbucks in one hand and training manual in the other, I watched my school counselors Amy Moran and Mavie Busboom introduce tMHFA. Little did I know that eight hours later, I would come out with my questions answered and with new hope.

The training consists of a wealth of information pertaining to the importance of your mental health and how to prioritize and take care of yourself. Youth are taught how to use coping mechanisms, support systems and other resources during this confusing season of life that they are in: adolescence. On top of all of this, they are also equipped with the five-step action that they can use in a crisis, like suicide.

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. I am also very open about the fact that I’m a teen Mental Health First Aider on social media. Every time I post something about mental health, I receive at least one message from someone reaching out about suicidal thoughts and other struggles common to teens. And with the tMHFA training, I am able to aid them get the help they need.

Now I can help them. I can say something. I now know what to do. I know what to say.

And you can too. If you haven’t taken a Mental Health First Aid class, I encourage you to learn more and take a course today. Together, we can help our peers who are struggling in silence.

Drew Voris is a recent graduate from Kickapoo High School and teen Mental Health First Aider.