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Hamburg schools training staff to recognize kids' mental health crises

Hamburg schools training staff to recognize kids' mental health crises

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Derek Gee/Buffalo News file photo

If a student gets a bloody nose, her teacher sends her to the nurse.

But what if the student is having a mental health emergency?

By the time the next school year begins in September, everyone working in the Hamburg Central School District, from the cook in the cafeteria to the custodian sweeping the floors to the superintendent in the administration building, will know what to do.

"We're not asking social studies teachers to treat students with mental illness," Superintendent Michael Cornell said.

But the district is training them to recognize the symptoms of mental illness and direct students to someone who can help. The district also wants to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.

"Our hope is people will see through a different lens," said Assistant Superintendent Colleen Kaney.

Nicole Dayka, coordinator of the district's Youth at Risk program and one of the trainers, said learning about what to do in a mental health emergency is like learning CPR.

"This is the same thing, this is having the skill base in knowing what to do," she said. "It's your job to direct them to appropriate help."

The situation may not be as dramatic as cardiac arrest. Instead, it could be a student putting his head down in class.

"Has anyone ever approached him, and talked to him and found out what is going on?" Dayka said.

The mental health of children is getting attention from a lot of school district administrators. Increasing funding for mental health services has moved ahead of adding money for extra academic help as the top priority for more than half of superintendents surveyed in October by the state Council of School Superintendents.

"The biggest story nobody talks about is the mental health issue in children," Cornell said.

Hamburg started looking for grants several years ago, and secured one from the Tower Foundation to give every employee a day-long training session in Mental Health First Aid.

The action plan follows ALGEE, an acronym for: Assess the risk for suicide or harm. Listen non-judgmentally. Give reassurance and information. Encourage appropriate professional help. Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

"It was eye opening," third-grade teacher Marilyn Reardon said of the training. "I do have children that are on my heart and my mind when it comes to some of the things they discussed."

"Just like first-aid where you put a Band-Aid on the cut," Kaney said, "you're going to look for the signs and get them to the appropriate medical provider."

Kaney said the district also hopes to offer training to parents and local organizations.



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