Jamie Dorr, executive director of the Midcoast Community Alliance in Bath. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick is hosting free virtual training sessions to help all adults recognize, understand and respond to the mental health concerns of area youth.

Youth Mental Health First Aid is geared towards those who work with kids ages 12-18,  but Jamie Dorr, executive director of the Midcoast Youth Center, emphasized the courses aren’t solely for people who work with teenagers in a professional capacity. 

“It’s something that affects every family,” Dorr said. “Just like you would take a CPR class as a parent, this is something that a parent or an aunt or an uncle or anybody can use to recognize warning signs and know what to doI think having those tools is invaluable and truly could be life-saving, just as a CPR class could be life-saving. 

Participants leave the eight-hour course to be held Jan. 28 and Feb. 15 as a certified Youth Mental Health First Aider, recognized nationally for three years.

Dorr didn’t have experience in social work or mental health when she took the course about three years ago, prompted by the loss of a teenager to suicide in her community. She was the mother of two teenage sons at the time.

The training inspired Dorr, in part, to consider a change in career from web design to social work.

“You talk during breaks, or in the program because some of it is interactive group work, and you really get to know people and how many are affected by mental illness, whether it’s them or someone they know,” Dorr said. 

Melissa Fochesato, director of Community Health Promotion at Mid Coast Hospital, said the hospital is in its fifth year partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to provide free Youth Mental Health First Aid. 

“About five or six years ago we were hearing from our community partners that they were concerned about the mental health of our youth,” Fochesato said. 

Fochesato said the hospital tracked the results of the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey for Sagadahoc County, which they use as a proxy for the community. The survey is given every two years to all middle and high school students in Maine.

According to Fochesato, there were three questions that raised concern. One was the number of youth who reported feeling sad or helpless, which was higher than the state average. Of those students, fewer than the state average reported they’d received help from an adult. The students who said they’d contemplated suicide were also higher than the state average. 

“We thought about what we could do as a community,” Fochesato said. “One of the obvious responses was we can train our adults to recognize and respond if a kid needs help.”

The 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey reported 16.4% of high school students in the state seriously considered attempting suicide in the last 12 months and 32.1% of high school students said they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing their usual activities. Among those students, 25.2% said they’d gotten help from an adult.

“Of course, the more we learn and talk about something, the less stigmas exist and I think stigma is what really gets in the way of people reaching out for help,” Dorr said. “So the more we can eliminate that stigma the more people we can get connected to resources that can help them.”

Comments are not available on this story.