Youth in Georgetown County will now be able to talk to certified first-aiders about any mental issues they are dealing with.

On Feb.6, Prevention Specialist David Caruso partnered with Healthy Learners to have a Youth Mental Health First Aid Training, an eight-hour workshop intended to train participants in knowing signs of mental issues in youths.

Millions of people in the US are affected by mental illness each year. Over 1 in 6 U.S. youth ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, according to NAMI statistics. Recent student suicides in Georgetown County schools prompted Caruso to initiate the program so that adults could know how to best assist young people.

Program Manager Dr. Aixa Rodriquez-Mariani instructed the class on how to become first aiders. She used different scenarios and learning exercises on mental health to have participants to recognize early warning signs through any adolescent’s physical, mental, social and economic development.

One activity saw participants matching real-life mental illnesses with their description while another put the class against different scenarios and how best to solve them.

Both instructors said the program was started in response to the rise of youth suicide in schools such as one that happened last year at Carvers Bay and other Georgetown County schools. Both suicides happened within weeks of each other.

“We have been thinking and trying to help children and adolescents with mental health,” Rodriquez-Mariani said. “If we’re going to be an organization that helps students with their health care, we have to start thinking about mental health as part of overall help.”

Dr. Rodriquez-Mariani said that these are the only reported suicides and there could be more unrecognized suicides within the community.

According to Caruso, Georgetown County is ranked number one in the state for suicides among youth. He said that the best way for adults to handle youth mental illness is to look out for, but not limited to, these warning signs:

• excessive worrying or fear

• substance abuse

• inability to carry out daily activities

• intensive weight changes

• extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” of feelings of euphoria

At the end of the workshop, participants were fully certified as first aiders with some like Terrance Swails appreciating taking the workshop. Swails works with and is used to dealing with children in abuse and neglect cases and took the course to learn new ways to handle youths.

“I just try to get all the knowledge I can,” Swails said. “I definitely can appreciate being approached non-judgmental and stepping into their shoes.”