Children and teens spend the majority of their waking moments on school campuses, where their teachers and other adults get a daily, firsthand look at mood or behavior changes in students.
Lafayette Parish School System teachers and other staff will have the opportunity to learn how to detect symptoms of mental health issues in students during a free training program offered on Saturdays in August and September.
The Youth Mental Health First Aid training is designed for adults who are not mental health professionals to learn the early signs and symptoms of substance abuse and other mental health problems.
The training is funded as part of a five-year, $125,000 annual grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration received by The Knowledge Effect Coalition, a Lafayette Consolidated Government program.
The coalition applied for the grant in reaction to the results of a 2014 Caring Communities Youth Survey that is given to students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades annually. The survey asks the teens a range of questions related to alcohol and drug use as well as their state of mind.
In 2014, 28 percent of 10th-graders and 36 percent of 12th-graders in Lafayette Parish School System schools participated in the survey. Twenty-one percent of Lafayette Parish School System 10th- and 12th-graders self-reported needing alcohol or drug treatment, according to results of the 2014 survey.
“Mental health encompasses so much — eating disorders, suicide or depression,” said Rachel Godeaux, The Knowledge Effect Coalition’s director. “It’s training for non-mental health professionals. Once they are trained, they’re able to identify underlying issues of mental health or substance abuse and refer (students) to services outside the school.”
The Saturday trainings begin Aug. 1. Teachers and staff may register online through CourseWhere, the school system’s online registration system.
“It is important that we learn to detect who is struggling early on so we can get them some type of help,” said Sandra Billeaudeau, Lafayette Parish School System’s district planning administrator. “They’re little subtleties that will help detect if someone is going through something, suffering or in a mental crisis of some sort.”
This is the second year of the grant, and Godeaux said other strategies to focus on alcohol and substance abuse also will be funded through the grant program.
The Knowledge Effect Coalition supports a local law that would prevent young adults younger than 21 from entering bars, though there’s no current proposal to create such an ordinance. In an interview in June, Godeaux said the coalition is trying to raise awareness about the issue.
Other initiatives involve increased visibility of law enforcement to prevent impaired driving and additional mental health training.
Godeaux said mental health training recently was provided to community organizations involved with youth and if there’s enough interest, a training for parents could be organized. Parents who may be interested in the Mental Health First Aid program may call Godeaux at (337) 291-8173.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.