Mental Health First Aid for teens designed to help the entire community

Posted: Updated:
MGN Online MGN Online
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

About one in five Kansas teens suffers from a mental illness, often leading to homelessness, drug abuse, and criminal behavior.  Sedgwick County wants to save our youth from that future and says you can help.

The county's mental health arm, Comcare, calls it Mental Health First Aid.  It's a training program for those who work with youth ages 12 to 18 and Comcare is now making that training available to the public.

"Really recognizing maybe signs and symptoms of what could be typical adolescent behavior as opposed to mental illness," said Sarena Clubb. 

Clubb has spent the last fourteen years helping Sedgwick County residents conquer mental health problems.  Now she's sharing that experience with those who work with Kansas youth through Comcare's Mental Health First Aid courses.

"Just encouraging people to learn what risk factors there are, learning how to identify whether there is more of a concern and whether they need to seek professional help or not," she explained.

In teens that can be hard as typical adolescent behaviors can mimic the early stages of mental illnesses.

"If you think about your adolescents, we have moodiness, crying, anger, changes in behavior, changes in their activity, maybe things that they're doing," Clubb explained.  "So, really being able to recognize what the function behind that behavior is." 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates half of all chronic mental ailments begin by age 14 but treatment often doesn't come for years, sometimes decades.

"We like to look at...their live, laugh, love. So it's kind of the LLL of things. And so, if their social setting is being impacted, their school setting or their home life is being impacted, and then the severity of that," Clubb said.  

When emotional imbalances begin to negatively impact lives, that's when a little help is needed, she said.

The idea of this training is to catch problems before Kansas youth spiral out of control, ending up homeless, addicted to drugs, and maybe behind bars.

Earlier this month, Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay told KAKE News that prevention and treatment of drug abuse, and its underlying  mental health problems, are key to solving the rising crime rates in Wichita.

"A significant  number of the homicides in 2018 have a drug connection, you know?  The majority of our street robberies, drugs are involved.  These are not cases of random people being shot or robbed.  It is, oftentimes the majority, (a) connection to drugs.  And mental health is another part of that," Ramsay said.