PATERSON, NJ –  Hundreds of Paterson Public Schools staff have participated in Mental Health First Aid Training, part of an initiative to build the district’s capacity to address the social and emotional needs of its students, Superintendent Eileen Shafer announced Thursday. 

The training, a skills-based training course that teaches participants about mental health and substance-use issues, has been provided by Mental Health First Aid USA which, according to its website, has trained more than two million people across the nation.

“Developing our ability to attend to our students’ social and emotional wellbeing is a goal that has been identified in the new five-year strategic plan, but our efforts to train our staff have been underway for a year,” said Superintendent of Schools Eileen F. Shafer. “We hope to be able to provide cohesive support in our district community and establish viable resources for anyone who is in need of help.”

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The training, seen as an effective resource to help Paterson Public Schools stakeholders recognize that mental illness and addictions are real, these illnesses can be treated, and that people can recover from them falls under the district’s Department of Special Education, headed by Chief Special Education Officer Cheryl D. Coy. During the 2018-2019 school year  325 district staff members participated in eight-hour training sessions on Mental Health First Aid for youth while in August 300 staff members participated in an eight-hour training session on Mental Health First Aid for adults.

The training, according to the statemtn, covered different types of mental illnesses and addictions, and provided instruction on assessing the risk of suicide or harm, listening without judgement, giving reassurance and resources to support, and encouraging self-help and other support strategies.

“The point of the training is not to have staff replace mental health professionals or medical attention that may be needed,” said Coy, “but rather to enable district staff to better identify potential crises that may occur and to know the correct actions to take in response.”

Additional training that will be used to raise mental health awareness in the district community, as well as to reduce the negative stigma that can surround mental illness and promote an understanding of how to help someone in a mental health crisis will be available to all district personnel starting in October. 

Seeking to develop relationships with mental health organizations, and to support the extension of federal funding for certified community behavioral health clinics and the expansion of programs throughout the State of New Jersey, Coy and Teacher Intervention and Referral Specialist Gail Nolton attended Hill Day 2019 in Washington, D.C., the largest behavioral health advocacy event in the nation, given by the National Council for Behavioral Mental Health earlier this month.

As are result of the multifaceted trainings and networking efforts, the district will also develop a mental health curriculum for all students in the Paterson Public Schools, the statement concluded.

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