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Youth Mental Health First Aiders Break Down Barriers and Stigma

Story written by Nancy Labat

Jun 30, 2022

In response to our nation’s mental health crisis, the Reading and Berks County YMCA is now offering Youth Mental Health First Aid Training in Berks County. Thanks to the generosity of the Berks County Community Foundation’s Home Health Care Foundation Fund, the Y was able to acquire startup funds for this life saving program. This groundbreaking skills-based course teaches people how to identify, understand and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health or substance use challenges in youth. Similar to physical First Aid and CPR, Youth Mental Health First Aid helps you assist a youth experiencing a crisis until professional assistance is obtained, or the crisis is resolved.

One in five Americans has experienced mental illness, and the pandemic has dramatically increased depression and anxiety, but many are reluctant to seek help or don’t know where to turn for care. Unlike physical conditions, symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges can be difficult to see. Friends and family members may find it hard to know when and how to step in. As a result, those in need of mental health services often do not receive care until it is too late.

Youth Mental Health First Aiders learn a 5-step Action Plan that guides them through the process of reaching out and offering appropriate support. Alyssa Bushkie, Director of Operations at the Reading and Berks County YMCA is the first trained facilitator for this program. She states “Fifty percent of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, which is why this training is so critical for teachers, coaches, parents any other people who interact with youth regularly “. Since its introduction, Mental Health First Aid has become a full-blown movement! More than 2.6 million people in the United States are certified Mental Health First Aiders, and that number is growing every day.

You can contact Alyssa Bushkie at [email protected] to set up training for your organization or visit to sign up. Join the Y in helping the youth in Berks County.

The mission of the YMCA of Reading & Berks County is to put Judeo-Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all. For over 160 years we have been the heart of the community we serve. The Y is a cause-driven organization that is for youth
development, for healthy living and for social responsibility. That is because a strong community can only be achieved when we invest in our kids, our health, and our neighbors. The Y is so much more.

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