School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: When One Teaches, Two Learn

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Teaching Youth Mental Health First Aid for the first time was a daunting task. The information is important, urgent, even critical and I was tasked with co-delivering it to a room filled with my peers; nurses. Nurses can be a tough crowd to teach.  We are critical thinkers, looking for theory and research to support learning.  This group was especially challenging for me because there were school nurses, public health nurses and nursing professors, all talented, experienced and giving up a cold Saturday in early December.  Did I say tough crowd?

I wanted to level the proverbial playing field for them and for myself.  So, I invited the group of 30 to acknowledge their skills, talents, and experiences and allow themselves, just for today to be learners, not experts.  So often, nurses cannot let our guard down because when we do, dire consequences can follow.  But just for this day, these nurses were given “permission” to be endlessly curious novices in the world of Youth Mental Health First Aid.

Extending permission for the nurses to set aside their expertise, just for this day changed the energy in the room. We had 8 hours of intensive sharing, experimenting, learning and skill building. It felt like instant intimacy, most likely due to the nature of the topic, but also because there was space created to be a learner and not an expert. Youth Mental Health First Aid is a challenging curriculum with emotionally charged scenarios that can leave participants emotionally vulnerable and raw from sharing. The support that is provided by the instructors and the participants is meaningful and creates a safe space for self-reflection when triggered by the topic.

Thanks to the expertise and guidance of Emma, my skilled and seasoned co-presenter, things went very smoothly for us. Thankfully no one knew it was my “first time” teaching the course until the very end! There was an audible sound of surprise when they found out, hopefully for a good reason. I look forward to teaching this curriculum over and over again to as many nurses, teachers, school-based staff as possible!

Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis. Youth Mental Health First Aid is primarily designed for adults who regularly interact with young people. The course introduces common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a 5-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.


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