PETERBOROUGH — To help community members learn the warning signs of mental illness in teens, a local nonprofit group is hosting a youth-focused mental health training later this month.
The Greater Monadnock Medical Reserve Corps, established in 2008 and located at Keene’s Cheshire Medical Center, is a community-based volunteer program that helps grow the area’s public-health infrastructure.
Medical Reserve Corps is a nationwide effort that President George W. Bush launched in 2002, as part of the USA Freedom Corps, to foster a culture of service, citizenship and responsibility, according to the Greater Monadnock Medical Reserve Corps’ website.
The local chapter — which serves the communities within Cheshire and western Hillsborough counties — aims “to engage health care professionals and non-medical personnel in helping the community prepare for, respond to, and mitigate emergencies, disasters, and pressing public health needs,” the website states.
Olivia Watson, director of the Greater Monadnock Medical Reserve Corps, said the Youth Mental Health First Aid training has been offered several times.
But this latest session comes in the wake of some recent suicides by area youths and as mental health issues are on the rise among teens.
Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in New Hampshire, and the 10th leading cause nationally, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports. The report also states suicide is the second leading cause of death for Granite Staters ages 15 to 34.
A total of 276 suicides were recorded in the state in 2018, according to data from the N.H. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
This marks the highest annual number of suicides in New Hampshire since 2009, the start of the data the office previously provided to The Sentinel. Of those in 2018, 16 happened in Cheshire County.
This fall, two students from the ConVal Regional School District and Conant High School died from self-inflicted injuries, according to police and school officials.
“The youth population is always growing and mental health illnesses are becoming more and more prevalent, so figuring out how to get young adults through them is incredibly important,” Watson said.
The free eight-hour training session — starting at 8 a.m. on Jan. 18 at Peterborough’s Monadnock Community Hospital — will teach attendees the risk factors and warning signs of a variety of mental health challenges that are common among teens. These include depression, ADHD and eating disorders.
Co-facilitated by Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker and ConVal Regional High School counselor JoAnn Fletcher, participants will be shown how to support a youth in emotional crisis or who shows signs of mental illness.
Walker said his 20-year-old daughter was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder about five years ago, giving him a personal reason for wanting to be involved with the course.
The condition is a combination of schizophrenia and mood disorder symptoms, such as depression and bipolar disorder. The symptoms may occur at different times or simultaneously.
Rather than viewing these signs as bad behaviors, Walker said he wants participants to understand they could be mental health symptoms.
“In teaching the program, the biggest thing it does is provides awareness,” Walker said. “Nothing in the program teaches you to diagnose — you’re not walking out as a clinician — but you are walking out of the program as someone who deals with youth, and you have a different perspective on how to work with them.”
After the session, attendees should be able to assess a youth’s risk of suicide or harm, listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance and information and encourage self-help and other support strategies, according to an event flyer.
The course is designed for members of the public and customer-service workers who interact with youth throughout their work day, volunteer at a youth-centered organization or provide services for youth directly. Parents are also welcome to attend, Walker noted.
Bethann Clauss, clinical director at Maps Counseling Services in Keene, said these courses are imperative to help teens feel connected to the adults in their lives.
“Teenagers love to fly under the radar. That’s why we have to learn how to tune in, notice what is going on with them, seek them out and offer the support they need,” she said in an email Friday. “Folks should go to this training so that they can feel more confident that they know how to stay present with a struggling teen and offer help in an effective way.”
To access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-8255. For The Samaritans’ hotline, call 603-357-5505 or 1-866-457-2910.
Non-emergency calls for The Samaritans, a suicide-prevention group in Keene, can be directed to 357-5510.
Another resource is the Monadnock Peer Support Agency, at 64 Beaver St. in Keene, which is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The agency can be reached at 352-5093 and has a “warm line” year-round, from 4 to 9 p.m., at 866-352-5093.
To schedule an appointment with MAPS Counseling Services, at 23 Central Square, unit 300, in Keene, call 355-2244. MAPS also has an office in Peterborough, at 9 Vose Farm Road, that can be reached at 924-2240.