3/14/2023 | By Karen Rice

Youth depression and anxiety are on the rise, so it’s essential that the adults who care about them learn about suicide prevention. Karen Rice, Director of Therapeutic Resources at Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, discusses the Youth Mental Health First Aid course, a nationwide opportunity for educating adults to recognizing the signs and reaching out appropriately.

Spring can be a season of hope, but it’s also a season with the highest rates of suicide. You can learn the signs, stamp out the stigma, and save a life.

At Virginia Home for Boys and Girls (VHBG), we’re putting out a rallying cry to make Youth Mental Health First Aid as common as traditional first aid and CPR. Because we work with young people, we hear from the adults in their lives that they wish they had known what to do and what to say when they suspected their youth was dealing with a mental health issue. Some adults say they were afraid they would make things worse if they said the wrong thing and so they felt helpless.

Depressed teenage girl with hand offering to help her up

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), depression and anxiety in youth doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels; 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24; and individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ are twice as likely to have a mental health condition than their straight peers and 2 to 3 times more likely to die by suicide.

When a young person is struggling, it’s up to ALL of us to notice, but how?

First, we need to spread awareness of this terrible, upward trend happening to our children and grandchildren.

Second, we need to get educated because anyone anywhere can be the one to make a difference in the life of someone with a mental health challenge … if they learn what to do and what to say.

Concerned adults need to know the unique risk factors and warning signs of mental health challenges that are common among adolescents, including anxiety, depression, psychosis, eating disorders, AD/HD, disruptive behavior disorders, and substance use disorders. They need to understand the importance of early intervention. And they need to know how to help an adolescent who is in crisis or experiencing a mental health challenge.

Sad little girl with father or grandfather. Image by Fizkes. Youth depression is on the rise so it’s essential that adults learn about suicide prevention. The Youth Mental Health First Aid course can help.

I teach Youth Mental Health First Aid (available nationally at I want people (including parents, grandparents, coaches, church and youth group leaders, childcare workers, teachers, employers … and more) to know that evidence-based training can help them learn to identify the signs of mental health distress in youth and then respond proactively.

This training gives tools and confidence to know what to say, what not to say, and how to respond. The eight-hour courses for adults are available in both English and Spanish, in-person and virtual.

If you can learn traditional First Aid, you can learn Mental Health First Aid as well.

The pandemic has exacerbated the growing number of young people who are suffering. Mental health has never been more important. Please consider finding a Youth Mental Health First Aid Workshop offered near you. You will learn how to intervene to make a difference in someone’s life.

VHBG offers the Youth Mental Health First Aid workshop free-of-charge to the public each month on its campus in Henrico, Virginia, thanks to grant funding, and travels to train private groups at their location within Virginia.

Karen Rice

Karen Rice, LCSW, is the Director of Therapeutic Resources at Virginia Home for Boys and Girls. She has more than 30 years of experience counseling youth and their families. Karen is certified (at the national instructor level) in Mental Health First Aid-Youth and Mental Health First Aid-Adult. This is an international certification to train the general public in responding to mental health concerns/issues. Karen holds a Master of Social Work, Mental Health from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Virginia.