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Mental Health First Aid: ‘So Much of it is Just Being Willing to Ask the Question’

Jessica Trussell, left, has long, dark hair and is wearing a black and white checkered shirt. Amy Bartells, right, wears glasses and a bright yellow blouse.
Rebecca Smith

This week’s Missouri Health Talks is a collaboration with Vox Magazine.

Jessica Trussell and Amy Bartels are both human development and family science specialists with the University of Missouri Extension. Jessica in Livingston County – Chillicothe – and Amy in Camden County.

They both teach a class called mental health first aid – essentially a training that gives adults tools to use to help identify mental health crises and connect others with resources. Amy focuses on teaching people who work with youth in schools.

You can learn more about mental health first aid in the October issue of Vox Magazine - available now in print and online: “In case of emergency: starting the conversation with mental health first responders.”

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Amy Bartels: So, we have a partnership right now with the Missouri School Board Association, through at least this next year, and our goal is to get as many school districts – whether it's teachers, administrators, counselors – trained in this program as we can.

The purpose is really again to bring awareness, and I think that there are a lot of good pieces with the training about youth because we spend a lot of time in that eight-hour training looking at what is typical adolescent behavior, development versus what are signs and symptom.

And a lot of times that's really difficult to discern. Teenagers and young people do a lot of strange things. Let's be honest.


We were all there, but the other piece to that is that we're all pretty resilient, and so most young people come through really pretty unscathed.

It's looking at where’s that student or where's that young person that possibly might have something else going on? And is there an emerging mental health issue that someone can be aware of? Because we do know that, many times, there's a gap between first developing signs and symptoms and actually getting a diagnosis - that gap is about 10 years.

And so young people are dealing with issues – stress, crises, trauma, and for whatever reasons, whether it's lack of access, whether it's stigma, whether it's parents that say, “I don't want my child to have this diagnosis,” whether it's, you know, other people that are involved that are saying, “they're just a tough to handle kid.”

For whatever reasons, they're not getting the help that they need, and we know that recovery is definitely possible in the mental health realm.

So, part of what we look at in the classes we look at how much is this mental health “issue,” and I put issue kind of in quotes, is this impacting someone's ability to function in their daily life. To build those relationships. To attend work or school. To do the things that they want to do.

And if it is significant, then that's really the time that someone that has this kind of training can reach out and guide them to the help that they need.

Jessica Trussell: And so much of it is just being willing to ask the question.

Amy: You bet.

Jessica: And not just a vague question.

Amy: Right.

Jessica: And so that really is a focus and we practice that, you know, we practice that in class – asking those questions to make sure that it's not something someone can brush off.

Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.
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