Amid Acute Provider Shortage, Teens Can Help Teens with Mental-Health Struggles

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

The relatively few students and educators around the United States who know about it are praising a new remedy for the mental health crisis. Peer-reviewed studies show Teen Mental Health First Aid training helps students educate teens not only on how to help themselves but on how to help their peers, as the Hechinger Report described in a March 2023 article.

This program, if greatly expanded, would help address an acute need. As the United States has only 14 practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists for every 100,000 children, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says most children must wait years for treatment. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that up to eighty percent of children and youth have no access to mental-health care, which contributes to a dangerous trend in which “mental health among students overall continues to worsen.” In 2021, for example, 40 percent of high-schoolers showed signs of depression. As with every other health metric, of course, the situation is worse for rural, POC and LGTBQ populations. Furthermore, the shortage of providers will not be solved quickly, as the process of training and qualifying psychologists, psychiatrists, and health counselors takes years.

To help address this need, Teen Mental Health First Aid covers practical, positive responses to many pervasive problems with which young people are already sadly familiar, including depression, anxiety, addiction, panic disorders, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation. Once trained, teens report “confidence in helping a friend who was anxious or suicidal, lower stigma around mental illness” and a better ability “to choose the correct, helpful course of action.”

Although the program does not certify anyone to provide therapy, it helps students and educators act as first responders by assessing the situation, doing what they can in the moment, and then informing a trusted adult authority. It teaches appropriate actions to take if teens detect warning signs of mental struggles, emotional crises and recovery issues.

A school district in Ramsey, New Jersey, has committed to training every student and every employee. The district’s director of student support services praised the program for empowering teens: “It gives them a lot of ownership, self-direction, knowledge, and self-confidence in these situations that they’re definitely going to face as they go through life.”

Source: Anya Kamenetz, “A Surprising Remedy for Teens in Mental Health Crises,” The Hechinger Report, March 3, 2023.

Student Researcher: Ellie Buckheit (Frostburg State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Duncan (Frostburg State University)