Mental health training success for San Juan Island Prevention Coalition

  • Mon Oct 30th, 2017 11:07am
  • Life

Contribute photo/San Juan Island Prevention Coalition

By Debbi Fincher


Recently, the San Juan Island Prevention Coalition offered an eight-hour training course on youth mental health first aid. This public education program is sponsored by a Project Aware grant with the Northwest Education Services District.

“I was really impressed by the program and by the broad web of support agencies that attended the presentation,” said local parent Katy Doarn. “Friday Harbor is full of individuals who want to help our kids be their strongest selves.”

Trainers, Dana King and Joyce Wells, used simulations and role-playing to demonstrate how to offer initial help in a mental health crisis and connect persons to the appropriate professional, social, peer, and self-help care.

The research supports the need for such trainings. Self-reporting data from middle and high school students in a 2016 Washington survey showed an increase in anxiety, stress, depression, and thoughts and attempts of suicide.

This program also teaches the common risk factors and warning signs of specific types of illnesses, like anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia. Being more aware of the warning signs gives us a chance to talk to the youth and help get them the support they need. Calling 911 is certainly appropriate if someone is in a mental health crisis.

This course explains that if youth are suspected of having a difficult time, then it’s OK to check with them. One of the most significant protective factors for youth is a caring relationship with a trusted adult. Be direct and talk openly about suicide. Be nonjudgmental and help remove the stigma about mental health issues.

About 20 participants joined this training.

“I think that it’s definitely worth-while for adults who work with kids to try to stay aware of signs of trouble and know something about effective ways to help. I’m glad I had the opportunity to take the course,” said parent Penelope Haskew. Haskew is the youth and family program director at the San Juan Community Theatre.

The ALGEE acronym, named for the program’s Koala mascot, helps remind participants to:

Assess for risk of suicide and harm

Listen non-judgmentally

Give reassurance and information

Encourage appropriate professional help

Encourage self-help and other support strategies

Resources for teens in crisis include Western Washington Chat Line,; the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Information, 800-273-8255; TeenLink, 866-833-6546; and 911.

The San Juan Island Prevention Coalition’s mission is to reduce substance abuse among youth and promote a community culture of healthy and responsible behaviors for youth and adults. Collaboration is key. Want to get involved? You’re invited to the next board of trustees meeting on Dec. 15. RSVP at 360-370-5716,, and like it on Facebook, too.