First aid response

Northwest Area Education Agency mental health coordinator Jennifer Collins tells Boyden-Hull educators about some techniques that can be used in mental health crises to prevent someone from acting on suicidal thoughts.

HULL—Boyden-Hull School District educators learned how to respond to mental health crises during a youth mental health first aid training session Thursday, Aug. 22, at the high school in Hull. School began at Boyden-Hull on Tuesday, Aug. 27.

Participants watched videos of 36-year-old Kevin Hines, a man who survived a suicide attempt after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in September 2000.

In one video, Hines said he made a pact on the day of his suicide attempt that if someone would ask him if he was OK he would not jump. As he rode on the bus to what he determined to be his final destination, no one inquired about how he felt.

Hines’ jump shattered two vertebrae in his spine, but he has made a recovery and spreads the message about suicidal tendencies.

The training was provided by the Northwest Area Education Agency. The organization noticed an increase in the amount of suicidal inclinations in youth, something that became apparent statewide in the results of the Iowa Youth Survey taken last year by sixth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students.

Jennifer Collins, an AEA mental health coordinator, was one of six trainers helping school staff recognize and respond to suicidal inclinations in youth ages 12-18. She said the AEA was aware of the trend before the results of the survey were available.

Dean Watchorn, an AEA special education strategist and school social worker, explained how the term “first aid” could be applied to the training session and in suicidal situations.

“In physical first aid, you learn how to treat broken bones and bandage someone and in mental health first aid you learn how to help calm a situation so you can connect a person with resources they need to intervene effectively,” Watchorn said.

Collins compared it to administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation until more permanent steps are taken to restore blood circulation and breathing in a person’s body.

“This is about the first response in a mental health crisis,” Collins said. “This is not counseling or therapy.”

The AEA wants to provide training for all educators in Iowa on how to respond to such situations.

“Money was allocated to put effort into providing educators with mental health first aid training,” Collins said. “There is an increase of death from suicide and it is the second leading cause of death for this age group — in Iowa and nationwide.”

The eight-hour training session in Boyden-Hull covered a five-step action plan called ALGEE:

  • Assess the risk of suicide.
  • Listen without judgment.
  • Give reassurance and information.
  • Encourage the person to seek appropriate professional help.
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

Collins provided an example of what a teacher could do in a situation. She said if an educator notices a student is writing a lot about death and feelings of hopelessness, the educator should get his or her suspicions out into the open to that student. Collins said the teacher should tell the student there has been notice of the writing and then express concern.

“See how there is no judgment there?” she said.

Collins also said the student should be told such thoughts are normal; however, she told the teachers they should stress no action on those thoughts needs to be taken.

“Teachers see a lot and they feel ill-equipped to provide support to students because they just don’t know what to do,” she said.