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Coalition and Southern RI LEA’s Unite in Children’s Mental Health Prevention

Coalition facilitates collaboration between Southern RI LEA Consortia, Gateway Healthcare, and S. Kingstown Police Dept.  to train 500 people to identify and respond to signs of mental health problems among teens – Teachers, police, scout leaders, coaches among those to be invited

SAMHSA grants $100,000 for project, one of only 100 funded in United States, only one in Rhode Island

An unusual consortium of all seven South County school districts plus East Greenwich, a premier behavioral services agency, a police department, and the region’s key advocate for children and families has won a prestigious $100,000 federal grant to change the way people think about youth mental health in the region.
The federal Center for Mental Health Services has approved a two-year project enabling the group to
train 500 educators, law enforcement professionals, community advocates, and other key people who interact with youth.
The 500 will be able to return to their communities and jobs able to recognize early signs of mental health problems in teens and to provide support and referrals to local services, says a consortium member.
“We’ve set out to accomplish three major goals,” said Susan Orban, coordinator of the Washington County Coalition for Children. “We want to ensure immediate help for every young person who needs it. We want to make every adult aware of children’s mental health needs. And we hope to remove the mental illness stigma that so often makes situations worse.” Orban’s organization was a project designer.

A proven training program
The eight-hour training – Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) – is a successful, evidence-based program that began for adults in Australia in 2001 and is now offered in more than 20 countries, said Orban. More than 100,000 people have been trained in the United States alone.
YMHFA is designed to teach adults who regularly interact with young people – parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, law enforcement officers, first responders, and other caring citizens – how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is otherwise in crisis, Orban reported.
The training identifies common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations.
“We’ve seen how important these trainings can be,” said Richard Leclerc, president and CEO of Gateway Healthcare. “Since 2008, we have trained over 700 people in Rhode Island: police officers, clergy, teachers and human service providers, so they can identify problems early, link people with treatment, and get them on the road to recovery. We are excited to bring Youth Mental Health First Aid to South County.”
The Center for Mental Health Services gave out only 100 such grants across the United States this year; this was the only one to Rhode Island.

Teens’ mental health issues have to be identified quickly
“We can’t wait until teens become adults to deal with their mental health issues,” Orban pointed out. “The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 75 to 80 percent of children and youth who need mental health services don’t get them.”
Orban also noted that many people who work with children don’t understand mental health problems or how to respond effectively.
“That’s what YMHFA training addresses. The wonderful news is that the sooner a young person gets help, the more likely a positive outcome.”
Mental health issues definitely exist in South County, said Orban, including:
• 275 Youth Mental Health Evaluations at Washington County hospitals (South County Hospital and Westerly Hospital) in 2013. In the first six months, 75% (53 of 71) of youth seeking evaluation had to board in the hospital emergency room while waiting for psychiatric beds.
• 1,058 (24.2%) Washington County high school respondents admitted they had experienced signs/symptoms of depression (RI SurveyWorks, 2012-2013)
• 18% of patients in the area’s largest pediatric practice had at least one mental health diagnosis, some as many as five (EMR Study of Mental Health Disorders at Coastal Narragansett Bay Pediatrics 2011, Signore et al).
• Approximately 25% of high school students admitted recent alcohol use and 758 admitted they had driven in a car with someone who had been drinking (RI SurveyWorks, 2011-2012).
• 313 Washington County high school students admitted use of illegal prescription drugs (such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax) in the past 30 days (RI SurveyWorks, 2012-2013).
It takes a consortium
Though the school districts of South County have collaborated before on important projects, the consortium is an unusually broad spectrum of members: eight school districts, serving 11 towns, the Washington County Coalition for Children, Gateway Healthcare, and the South Kingstown Police Department, which plans to bring other law enforcement agencies in the region together.
“I consider this an important opportunity to train my officers, and would consider bringing it to the attention of the state police chiefs association,” said South Kingstown Police Chief Vincent Vespia, Jr.
“It’s that important.”
“We can do so much more together than would have been possible on our own,” acknowledged Kristen E. Stringfellow, Ed.D. superintendent, South Kingstown School Department and Lead Local Educational Authority (LEA) for the Consortium.
“This grant will make a significant difference in the lives of students and families, and we are truly grateful for the collaborative effort and support. Our children are our priority, and their wellness is paramount to any other educational or community effort.”