Awareness & education
Since violence in school systems is increasing across the country, Trillium Health Resources recently sent out an informational pamphlet to every school in their 25-county coverage area of eastern North Carolina. A multitude of resources are available to address the complex issue of mental health, particularly in regards to students, and Trillium is committed to helping people connect to them locally.
“There’s a lot we offer which the schools can benefit from, as well as our community, that people are not aware of,” explained Bland Baker, Trillium’s Northern Regional Director, on the decision to send out the short pamphlet. “This was another way to reach out to folks in the community and let them know how to contact us and what else we have that we provide.”
The pamphlet covers a range of topics such as warning signs, coping skills, and resources to turn to for help.
Baker explained it was crucial to share the information with students, teachers, and staff in schools for multiple reasons, such as to help kids overcome bullying, to remove the stigma attached to mental health, and to educate school personnel on what to look for in struggling kids.
“That can be in the form of grades falling, withdrawing, it can be a lot of different signs,” Baker said. “Just making them aware of what to look for, so that we can give these kids help before it results in suicide or attempted suicide, or even results in someone becoming so angry that people get hurt in schools.”
Warning signs for adolescents struggling with mental health issues are listed in the pamphlet along with a comparison to typical adolescent behavior so people will understand when to become concerned by a teen’s actions.
Typical behaviors for teenagers include brief outbursts or threats tied to a particular situation (such as a fight with a parent), minor rebellions and rule-breaking (such as staying out later than promised), withdrawing from parents, modifying appearance or switching to new activities, and emotional sensitivity.
In contrast, the warning signs include threats of harming self or others (through speech, written words, or online postings), loss of enjoyment in activities they previously enjoyed, isolation from all friends and family, confusing television or movies with reality, and paranoia.
The majority of the pamphlet, however, is devoted to spreading information about resources people can turn to when there is a problem. Trillium’s Access to Care Line (1-877-685-2415) is open for people to call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The agents who answer the phone will determine what kind of services the caller needs.
Sometimes that help means the Mobile Crisis Team, which is run through Integrated Family Services (IFS), will be sent out to provide assistance.
“When they get a call, they go wherever the person is,” Baker said before mentioning several examples, “It can be the Walmart parking lot, it can be church, in their home, if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning, if it’s in the school system.”
He noted they’ve recently had a marked increase of calls from schools for this service.
“Mobile Crisis is a great resource. They do a lot of great work in the school system,” the director acknowledged.
Integrated Family Services are also available to provide grief counseling for a limited time at schools after a traumatic event, such as the death of a student or faculty member.
A newer service that IFS offers, Baker explained, is Crisis Chat. The service is available to anyone in Trillium’s coverage area, but he said it was designed particularly with youth in mind. People who need someone to talk to can access the chat service at both Trillium’s and IFS’s websites through a cell phone or computer, and then they’ll be connected to a specialist trained in crisis intervention who can provide emotional support.
Baker said participants can use Crisis Chat for a variety of reasons such as “if they’ve had a hard day, if they’re struggling with bullying in school, if they just want to talk and process some things.”
“They do not have to give their name,” he added. “It’s a way of checking in and having someone to vent to.”
The informational pamphlet also mentioned services like Youth Mental Health First Aid and Crisis Intervention Training, two very different programs which can be beneficial for young people in schools.
Baker explained the first aid training is to help people of all ages—there are curriculums for both adults and youth—to recognize signs and symptoms of kids who have issues in school, and then learn how to approach those kids and get them the help they need. The training is free and is open for anyone to attend.
Groups interested in the youth first aid training can call Trillium to schedule the session. Baker noted there hasn’t been any of these classes held in the Roanoke-Chowan area yet—the closest has been in Martin County—but some are currently in the process of being scheduled.
The Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program is offered for law enforcement officers, but Baker pointed out that these officers are often called into to the schools for assistance. The training teaches officers how to approach and react to someone suffering from mental illness.
“A lot of times, if they’re suffering from mental health issues and you don’t know how to approach them, it can make things worse,” he said.
The CIT program, Baker continued, “is just a way of educating law enforcement about the different diagnoses of individuals, how to approach them, and ways to react… so it doesn’t wind up in an arrest or jailtime.”
While the program was slow to catch on at first, Baker said they’ve now held many training sessions with law enforcement officers in the Roanoke-Chowan area. It is a 40-hour course that is offered for free.
“Law enforcement that has been trained in crisis intervention training sometimes will have a better approach or a different approach to an adolescent who is struggling with some issues,” he said, emphasizing how this training can benefit youth. “The way they’re approached can make all the difference in the world in how that encounter goes.”
In addition to these resources, Trillium also supports the System of Care model in schools. A System of Care coordinator from Trillium meets on a regular basis with a group made up of people from both the community and the schools. The group identifies gaps in mental health services. Then they work together to close those gaps.
Above all, Baker emphasized an importance on getting the information out to the people who need it. That’s what they wanted to accomplish by distributing the pamphlets to all the schools.
Most people, he said, don’t recognize that mental illnesses should be treated the same as physical illnesses. They’re working to overcome the stigma associated around mental health so people won’t be afraid to admit when they have a problem.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever get ahead of the problem completely,” Baker admitted, but added that a continuing commitment to education and awareness can help people before they get to the point of hospitalization, drug use, violence, or even suicide.
The earlier people get help, the better it is for them in the long run, he added.
Baker stressed the importance of mental health education in schools because, as he said, while not everyone who suffers from mental illness becomes a school shooter, those who commit these violent acts often have a history of struggling with mental health issues.
“We want our communities to be healthy. It doesn’t always mean that someone’s going to be cured, but learning how to live with their illness, learning how they feel when they are good, and knowing how to respond when they start to feel themselves slipping,” Baker concluded.
Trillium’s northern region covers 10 counties, including Bertie, Gates, Hertford, and Northampton. The 24-hour Access to Care line (1-877-685-2415) can help connect people to mental health resources when they are in need. More information on what Trillium has to offer can be found on their website at www.trilliumhealthresources.org.