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How do you know whether a child or young adult is exhibiting early warning signs of a mental illness? What if this is a child of a friend or a friend of your own child? Who should you contact? How should you approach the subject? Are you being intrusive?

The Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance offered a course to address all these concerns called “Youth Mental Health First Aid,” an in-person training that teaches how to help people developing a mental illness or in a crisis. Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches signs and impact of addictions and mental illness, a 5-step action plan to assess a situation and help, and local resources and where to turn for help.

“With studies estimating 13-20 percent of children living in the US (up to 1 and 5 children) experiencing a mental disorder in a given year, this is a public health concern,” said Heidi Kahme, Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance Coordinator. “For our community, the 2012 Search Institute Attitudes and Behavior survey given to 732 of our students, revealed, depending on the grade, between 5% -15% of 7th-12th graders felt sad or depressed most or all of the time. Having community members trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid will bring a better understanding of what mental illnesses impact youth, give us the skills to help our youth and provide immediate support in a time of crisis.”

In October, 24 individuals who regularly interact with youth (ranging from teachers, coaches and school psychologists from Hopewell Valley schools, clergy and church members, parents, and other community stakeholders) took the 2-day 8-hour course in Hopewell Valley. The program was paid for through fundraising efforts of Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance.

Local mother, Girl Scout leader, Timberlane PTO president, and Helpwell organizer, JoAnn Markiewicz, shared how valuable she found the program and how she envisions she will be able to bring this new knowledge to her role with youth in Hopewell Valley.

“The program included roll-playing and I learned to determine how I, as a parent and a person involved in the community, could get help for a child. So many children are afraid to go to people for help,” said Mankiewicz. “After the training, I know exactly what to look for and what to do. It gave me a lot of confidence and the tools to know how to get a person the help that she needs. I don’t think I can change the world but, if I can help just one child, it is worth it.”

It is the HV Municipal Alliance’s hope to find additional funding so that more interested community members could participate in the training program.

“Anyone who works with youth or finds themselves around youth — parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, clergy, police officers, first responders, youth leaders — should take this training. With the number of young people we have lost in our community to suicide or drug overdose, we cannot afford to ignore the issue of youth mental health,” said Kahme.

If you are interested in participating or helping with funding, please contact Heidi Kahme, HV Municipal Alliance Coordinator at 609-737-0120 x642.

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, and a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, photographing mushrooms, and misguided adventures in random hobbies. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), serves on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance, and holds the elected position as the Hopewell Borough Democratic Committee Municipal Chairwoman.

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