Teachers, Parents Train in Youth Mental Health First Aid

Special Workshop for Camp Counselors on May 21

Since the pandemic started, experts have warned of a mental health crisis facing American children. That is now playing out at schools across the nation—and in Santa Barbara County—in the form of increased childhood depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, fights and thoughts of suicide.

“The pandemic has dramatically increased depression and anxiety in youth,” said Megan McClintock, Director of School Based Counseling Services for Family Service Agency (FSA). “Our organization is certainly seeing more referrals for treatment as well as an increase in severity.”

To take action, many adults are joining a growing movement by taking a course called Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). The free, virtual training teaches adults how to spot warning signs of mental health risks and substance abuse in children, and how to prevent a tragedy. In the past three years, over 1,600 Santa Barbara County parents, mental health providers, educators, and counselors have been trained.

“May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this is an area where we need greater awareness,” said Michèle Pouget-Drum, Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor and member of the Board of Directors for the Mental Wellness Center (MWC). “Adults need to know that they have an important role to play in helping a young person struggling with a mental health concern or substance use.”

Just as CPR helps even those without clinical training assist an individual having a heart attack, YMHFA teach participants the skills to interact with a youth experiencing a mental health crisis. Mental Health First Aiders learn a five-step action plan that guides them through the process of reaching out and helping the youth connect to appropriate support.

More than 2.5 million people nationwide are certified mental health “first aiders,” and that number is growing every day. In the next five years, FSA, MWC and Youthwell expect to train and additional 2,800 adults.

Here’s what past participants are saying:

Parent: “My stepson has a mental health disorder and this class was very helpful in demystifying our situation. I feel better prepared to help him, my family, and more aware of what my students might need from me.”  

High School Science Teacher: “This Mental Health First Aid class gives our community more resources to help those that are in crisis and prevent tragedies from happening.” 

School Principal : “I used what I learned in class that morning to help a student in crisis that same afternoon.”

Community Member : “This training was incredibly valuable for adults assisting young people. I learned about various mental health challenges and disorders in youth and how to handle those situations. I would recommend this course to any person who works with youth or cares about youth mental health issues. It is as vital as learning CPR.”

There are two upcoming virtual YMHFA trainings during Mental Health Awareness Month on May 5 and May 21. The May 21st class will focus on camp counselors and other youth programs. In-person trainings resume in June. The course is free to Santa Barbara County residents. To register, visit BetheDifferenceSB.org or call (805) 884-8440.


The National Council for Mental Wellbeing was instrumental in bringing Mental Health First Aid to the United States. To learn more about the nationwide effort, visit MHFA.org.

The mission of Family Service Agency (FSA) is to strengthen and advocate for families and individuals of all ages and diversities, helping to create and preserve a healthy community. FSA is regarded as one of Santa Barbara County’s most reliable and effective nonprofit human service organizations. Established in 1899, FSA improves the health and well-being of our community’s most vulnerable children, families and seniors by ensuring access to food, shelter and other basic needs, as well as providing youth mentoring, case management, substance abuse treatment, advocacy, and a wide-array of mental health programs. For more information, visit www.fsacares.org.

The Mental Wellness Center (MWC) is the non-profit organization that recognizes mental illness is a community matter affecting us all. Providing education and support, MWC is dedicated to meeting the immediate and future needs of our Youth, Adults, Families, and the greater Community. Visit mentalwellnesscenter.org for more information.

YouthWell focuses on education, prevention, support, and early intervention, connecting youth through age 25 and their families to mental health and wellness resources before the crisis. YouthWell mobilizes community stakeholders in order to improve outcomes, affect systemic change, and build common understanding. YouthWell provides an online Community Calendar and a Mental Health Resource Directory for Santa Barbara County. Visit youthwell.org for more information.

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