Reprinted from "First Responders for Young People" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3 (2), p. 5
It is a bit hard to get your head around what to call the numerous people that are really the first on the scene when a young person is having a crisis. We settled on ‘first responders’ because nothing else seemed appropriate.
Really we are talking here of everyone that lives in a community. As Hilary Clinton and, in this issue, Donna Murphy point out, it is the entire village that comprises the ‘first response.’ Teachers, school counsellors, and youth outreach workers are first responders for many youth. But if indeed the entire village is necessary, how do we reach those villagers that have little or no understanding of distress? Numerous volunteers organize, plan and deliver multitudes of social, recreational, athletic and other types of programs—how many truly know how to respond in a way that is helpful to young people and their families?
Foremost, however, are parents. How much do we teach in parenting classes or school newsletters about what to look for when it comes to identifying anxiety, eating disorders, depression, mania, psychosis, substance use problems or, really, any form of distress?
The pay off is huge, however, for doing this work right. Think of a world where mental illness or addiction does not devastate a life. Where the social, educational, vocational, and economic challenges that have come to be associated with mental illness and addiction are barely a blip in an otherwise interesting life. In a recovery model we strive to help a person regain something that was lost: be it hope, employment, health, education, or whatever. What if it was never lost in the first place?
There are some truly innovative and exciting projects reported on in this issue. Some truly inspiring youth talk about their experience. But interestingly, most of the articles are by service providers in the field. There are fewer articles by those villagers who come into contact with our young people in the myriad of non-medical programs and services.
And there is nothing in these pages that talks of what it means to the young person once labelled. Of what an uneducated village feels, thinks, or assumes the label means. Of how those thoughts, feelings or assumptions translate into perceptions. If the response to adults with mental health issues or addictions is any indication, we are making progress but still have a long way to go.
About the authorChristina is Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mid-Island and Cowichan Valley branches. She has an MEd in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies and is working towards her doctorate in Policy and Practice in the Faculty of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria.