BBBS as a Mental Health First Responder

The path to adulthood can be hard. Even for kids in optimal situations, learning healthy social skills and how to deal with problems can be difficult. For children who face additional challenges, however, such obstacles can be magnified, putting these children at risk of falling far behind their peers.

While each generation has experienced this to some degree, young people today are facing adversity that is unprecedented and that is uniquely hard to navigate. And the impact on their mental and emotional health has been significant. Across the country, there is an alarming increase in the prevalence of youth mental health challenges.

It’s a situation Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is taking steps to address. In partnership with our national organization, BBBS of Central Texas employee Christina Snell, Director of Match Support, has just become one of 20 certified instructors in the evidence-based Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum.

“Absolutely, we are seeing a greater need for mental health counseling within our matches,” said Joe Strychalski, BBBS VP of Programs. “Even before the pandemic there were some concerning trends as young people were dealing with increasing daily pressures and stresses. The pandemic only exacerbated these issues. We have been hearing more frequently about the tremendous challenges and needs our young people and families are facing.”

“Mental health and well-being can impact every area of a child’s life – from how they relate to other children and adults to how they’re able to learn or achieve in school,” continued Joe. “It impacts how they think and behave. Consequently, with so many youth facing increased challenges, the impact on our families and communities is profound.”

“This is why we’re incredibly excited for Christina to have this opportunity and the resulting benefit to our agency and network as a whole!” he added.

Following an application process, Christina was chosen as one of 20 professionals across the BBBSA network to be trained in Mental Health First Aid by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. After completing her training and certification, Christina will be able to train other professionals and volunteers to be Mental Health First Aid responders, or ‘Mental Health First Aiders’. Mental Health First Aiders will work to educate adults about youth mental health concerns, teach them how to recognize warning signs and symptoms, and provide action plans to help youth who may be facing mental health problems or crises.

“Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is like CPR – it’s the initial help for someone experiencing a mental health challenge,” said Christina. “MHFA responders do not diagnose or treat. They observe changes in behaviors, offer a nonjudgmental listening ear, respect privacy, and serve as a vital link to early intervention. Such help can connect a person to appropriate support and treatment.”

Christina’s professional journey actually began when she got her degree in psychology, with a focus on youth mental health, from the University of Texas at Arlington. “In my 17 years with BBBS, that knowledge has been extremely helpful,” said Christina. “I’m just so thrilled to now be able to grow my overall knowledge of intervention for our youth and their mental health. This new role will build my skills, enabling me to better lead my team, and train those around me to also be aware of the early signs, the worsening signs, and the crisis signs for the kids we serve, to truly save lives.”

BBBS will also be working within its programs to offer a broader array of mental health support and resources for our kids and their families.

“I love seeing staff grow and develop in their skills and expertise,” said Joe. “This is such a unique opportunity for Christina, plus it is coming at a time when it’s so desperately needed. I know she’ll bring so much back to our staff, matches and families that will help us better understand the challenges our kids are facing and increase our ability to help them!”

It is another step in helping all youth achieve their full potential.

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