The Teacher Becomes the Student: Teen Mental Health First Aid

The Teacher Becomes the Student: Teen Mental Health First Aid

What is one thing I have learned from teaching Teen Mental Health First Aid? Having trouble talking about mental health is not innate in our beings. It is a learned behavior. It is something that is taught to us throughout our lives through generations of perpetuated stigma. We do not come out of the womb with an aversion to talking about our feelings. The teens I have been teaching are surprisingly open about mental health conversations, something I was not expecting. They are engaged and they participate in class. They ask thought-provoking questions, and they fearlessly discuss traditionally hard topics.  

However, their adult counterparts are less often this open. While teaching Mental Health First Aid to adults, the room is often silent when it is time to participate. Not because participants think mental health conversations are not important (they showed up to the class after all), but because they are less likely to have been encouraged to discuss their own views on the matter before. My take is that with this new wave of “Mental Health Matters” culture, teens are hearing earlier and more often that it is okay to talk about mental health before they are hit hard with the associated stigmas. Unfortunately, older generations have already been hit with the stigma, which is now more ingrained into their beliefs. Even if an adult holds the belief that discussing mental health is important, they likely fight subconscious stigmas that were taught to them at various stages in their lives before society became more open and accepting of the topic.  

So what? Why is this lesson important? For starters, we do not need to “baby” teens when talking about mental health. They crave information on how to improve their lives. They crave any type of knowledge, really. They want to know how to help their friends when they are struggling. They want to talk about mental health, and they are not afraid of it (yet! Let’s keep it that way!) If we avoid talking to teens about their mental health, we are decreasing their quality of life and potentially their safety. Second, this shows me that the culture around mental health IS changing for the better. The future is bright, and our young people are leading the charge. Third, teens can help spread positive mental health messages to adults who have faced generational stigma. Many adults know, in theory, that mental health conversations are critical, but in practice are unable to have them. If young people continue to fearlessly have these conversations, they will break down the longstanding stigmas heard throughout older generations.  

At the end of each class, each student is required to fill out an exit ticket to reflect on what they learned that day and to communicate if they need to have follow up conversations. I would like to end this piece by anonymously sharing some of the responses that impacted me the most. 

What is one thing you learned today? 

  • Love more  
  • Mental Health is not just being happy 
  • I am at risk for challenges   
  • That the quicker someone gets help the quicker they get better 
  • There are lots of people that can support me   

To learn more about my thoughts on the program and Teen Mental Health First Aid in general, listen to our November Mental Health Matters KOTO Access show here:  

Corinne Cavender, Behavioral Health Solutions Executive Assistant

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