Dozens of Parish staff from across the Diocese of Venice recently took part in one of two workshops, learning how to respond to a mental health crisis among youth.
The Youth Mental Health First Aid workshops on April 29, 2021 at St. Agnes Parish in Naples and May 1 at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota, were offered through the Diocese Department of Religious Education in an effort to teach those who interact with teens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis.
Barry Groesch, seasonal resident who attends Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda, is a retired law enforcement officer with 30 years of experience who has been teaching Mental Health First Aid to groups for the past decades. The target audience for the Diocesan workshops was priests, deacons, principals, teachers, and catechists.
Groesch said Youth Mental Health First Aid is the help offered to a young person experiencing a mental health challenge, mental disorder or mental health crisis. The first aid given is administered until appropriate help is received or until the crisis resolves. He stressed that Mental Health First Aid does not teach people to diagnose or to provide treatment. Through role-playing, participants worked through various scenarios which addressed some of the situations they might face.
The reality is that most mental health issues are not handled because of the societal stigma that comes with mental illness, Groesch said. He was quick to point out that no two people suffer from the same issues and that the goal is to create a more supportive and understanding environment. This is all done so that when a crisis does occur the signs are recognized and an action plan is in place, lending appropriate support and bridging the gap until professional help can arrive.
John Gulley, Principal of St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers, said he hoped to learn about identifying the symptoms of mental health issues and being more proactive.
Kelli Bonner, Director of Religious Education at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers, expressed her desire to leave the workshop with the tools necessary to confidently respond when the next crisis occurs.
This was precisely the goal Groesch set forth for the day, teaching participants the risk factors and warning signs of a variety of mental health challenges common among adolescents. Participants learn to support a youth developing signs and symptoms of a mental illness or in an emotional crisis by applying a core five-step action plan.
That action plan included: assessing for risk of suicide or harm; listening without judgement; giving reassurance and information; encouraging appropriate professional help; and encouraging self-help and other support strategies.
Each workshop participant also received a certificate upon completion of the workshop.