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AWARE program introduces Mental Health First Aid

There are tools to help if someone is having a heart attack (CPR) or is choking (the Heimlich maneuver). But tools for helping individuals going through a difficult mental health issue aren’t as widely known.

That is about to change with the addition of Mental Health First Aid to the arsenal of the Health and Human Services’ Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency Through Education) team.

Mental Health First Aid is a course that teaches how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness. The training teaches the skills to provide initial help and support to someone developing or experiencing a mental health crisis.

“We can now teach the course to tribal members and families,” said Dr. Brittany Henry, AWARE mental wellness manager. “It’s a nice addition to the program. We are a small team, so it’s a good way to give people more skills and tools to recognize what is going on with their own kids. It’s also a good way to bring mental health awareness to the community.”

Because of the pandemic, AWARE hasn’t been able to offer the Mental Health First Aid training for families and the
community yet, but Henry hopes to have the program in place by the end of the summer.

The training is a full eight-hour day filled with useful information. The goal of the program is youth mental health, which targets ages 12 to 18 and up to 25, which is about the age mental health concerns may begin.

“The purpose is to improve mental health knowledge and skills so people can respond to someone who is in a crisis or having difficulties and help them avoid a full-blown crisis,” Henry said. “It can also reduce the stigma of mental health. This is an opportunity to normalize it and help families understand it.”

The process of helping in any situation depends on the needs of the child. Mental Health First Aid isn’t meant to be a substitute for medical care or counseling.

“It is the first step,” Henry said. “A teacher would try to connect so the child feels safe and comfortable. Kids may need more additional support, but this is to make them feel safe and know it will be okay. These things happen; we want the stigma to be reduced.”

Parents and anyone who is working around or involved with youth will all get the same training where they learn to identify concerns and connect with the child.

One example of the training is ALGEE, which means Approach and Assist, Look for signs of trauma and anxiety, Listen non-judgmentally, Give reassurance and support, Encourage appropriate professional help and a self-help strategy.

During the pandemic, the AWARE program has held virtual sessions in Ahfachkee, Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School and preschool classes tribalwide.

The program gives students activities to help them feel calm, do art projects, talk about emotions and healthy expression. Prior to going virtual, the AWARE team was trained on how to do telehealth sessions.

“Mental health is so necessary,” Henry said. “We promote resilience in the kids. We don’t want to leave them with emotions they cannot process.”

Henry plans to roll out the AWARE program with activities for the Boys & Girls Clubs and families to do at home.

“Kids desire connections,” Henry said. “They are hearing about scary Covid, it’s hard for a kid to process. They wish Covid would go away, they miss their friends and teachers. Kids thrive with connections. It’s hard to just look at a screen all day; sometimes that causes them to feel anxious. Our job is to give them coping strategies.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at