mental health pandemic

First Aid for Mental Health: Unique Training Offered to Help Identify Struggling Kids

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As most students at John L Marsh Elementary on Chicago’s Far South Side continue learning remotely, their teachers are continuing to reach out to them in unique and important ways.

“The teachers are paying close attention. We are here to support our students and we're looking for anything that might be out of the ordinary,” said Jose Torres, principal of the CPS school that enrolls approximately 40 students.

Torres says his staff now know exactly what to look for after they took part in “Mental Health First Aid Training” over two days earlier this year. The training was led by the non-profit group Communities in Schools of Chicago.

“We have changed the way that we are looking for what is different about our students, either (because) they're not connecting or maybe they just look frustrated,” Torres said.

Judish Allen is the Clinical Director of CIS of Chicago and teaches the “Mental Health First Aid Training” course.

“The number one objective is to be able to distinguish between normal childhood, normal adolescent childhood behaviors and what is a sign or symptom of an upcoming mental or behavioral health issue,” Allen said.

Pre-pandemic, Allen taught the classes in person, but the training sessions are now held virtually to help educators and even law enforcement address kids’ mental health.

“We can't minimize what kids are going through. We can't say, ‘Oh my gosh, you're 11. What do you possibly have to be worried about?’ We're seeing suicide rates increase with children as young as eight, nine, 10 years old, so we do have to take it very seriously,” Allen said.

CIS of Chicago is offering two free, virtual training sessions in March, which will be open to anyone who wants to know how to help children get through this pandemic.

“It’s parents and grandparents. It's anyone within the community that has an interaction with kids. We want everyone to kind of be that ‘see something, say something’ type of person,” Allen said.

Allen says asking questions is the best way adults can help children. The training teaches adults how to ask kids about how they’re feeling. You can find out more information about the sessions on the group’s website.

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