We’ve been asked a fair bit over the last month what our stance is on mental health. There seems to be two camps growing up in the youth sector. Those who see us as generalist youth workers who do not need to know about mental health except that we should refer on to more qualified help and those who believe that as one of the biggest issues facing our young people is something we should know about…mental health. One camp is ignoring issues for the sake of the profession, the other is seeking to adapt with the times.
It will come as no surprise to our long term readers that we sit in the later camp. We believe that youth workers provide a first responder service to young people experiencing mental health issues in the same way that paramedics provide physical health services. We often provide gatekeeper services to mental health support through triaging the case and providing support until a mental health professional can take them on. We do this now, and with little or no specific mental health training. We believe that by our inaction in dealing with our young peoples mental health we are, by default, causing harm to them.
We are not advocating that all youth workers become mental health clinicians. We are saying that we need more than a mental health first aid certificate. A two day course is not enough. We need to faithfully support our young people in all their trails and tribulations. We need to come to grips with the fact that our training programs written decades ago have lost their relevance and we need to update our frameworks. It is up to the academics to change the course structures. It is up to the sector to demand this. It is every youth workers responsibility to become better than they are right now. Mental health is only one area we need to become more proficient in.