West Ranch students receive mental health first aid training

Students in Julie Chang's peer counseling class at West Ranch High School recently received mental health first aid certificates. February 07, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal

Students at West Ranch High School became certified in mental health first aid after taking a course funded by a Los Angeles nonprofit organization.

Juniors and seniors a part of the peer leadership class at West Ranch spent a day training to become certified in the field of mental health first aid through the National Council for Behavioral Health.

“The students gain awareness of what mental health is, not just black and white, there’s a gradient in mental health, it’s visible and this gives the students a lens to see and recognize issues when they arise,” said Julie Chang, peer counseling teacher at West Ranch.

In the training, students spent the day learning different aspects of mental health, what warning signs could be, and how to approach or offer help to someone who struggles with mental health disorders.

“One takeaway was not being afraid to ask,” said student Brooke Ivy. “You have to ask the hard questions about someone’s mental health. It’s important to be there for people and you wouldn’t want to lose a friend because you didn’t ask the hard questions.”

Students in Julie Chang’s peer counseling class at West Ranch High School recently received mental health first aid training and certificates. Leading the class is Deborah Rocha, founder of SRD Straightening Reins, a local nonprofit. Feb. 7, 2020. Bobby Block/The Signal

The students participated in various discussion lectures which trained them in peer mediation and counseling. Lectures included assessing risks, listening attentively, giving reassurance and encouraging self or professional help.

“Learning those steps taught us what to do if someone is in a crisis situation and how to calm them down, encourage them and also seek professional help,” said Riley Blaugrund, a student at West Ranch.

The training was funded through the FundaMental Change organization, a nonprofit dedicated to “engaging in a number of strategies, events, and initiatives that leverage FundaMental Change’s biggest strength as a convener of important policy leaders, community leaders, grassroots leaders, and residents across the San Fernando Valley and beyond,” according to their website.

“What really stuck with me this time is how people really go through a lot of struggles,” said Trey Topping, a student at West Ranch. “We’ve had all these speakers who talk about being mindful of your words and actions and you realize how much those things affect other people.”

Students who participated in the course are a part of a peer leadership class offered at West Ranch which teaches social-emotional health and how to navigate the challenges students face throughout high school.

The goal of the class is to help students understand their own mental well-being while being able to offer guidance to their peers.

“Taking this class was just another great opportunity for taking a leadership role, but in a different light,” said Blaugrund. “Rather than doing big, loud spirited things, this is calmer leadership with your peers.”

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