CONYERS — Starting at 9 a.m. last Tuesday, 19 Rockdale County Public School stakeholders participated in a Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training course.

Darci Gilreath, YMHFA certified instructor and coordinator, and Susan Paul Smith, RCPS director of Student Relations, headed the class.

The class is a free eight-hour course taught by the two certified instructors and covers topics such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, suicide and abuse and all the physical, emotional and various other signs and solutions that can have impact on the youth.

“Since this is my first year in the school system, my administrators thought it would be a good program for me to participate in,” said Veronica Bell, a counselor paraprofessional at Flat Shoals Elementary. “Going out of your way to take this course, especially if you work in a school, is very important. We are fortunate to see these kids everyday and sometimes the families aren’t aware of what their child may be going through, so we have to be there to step in.”

Participants who complete the full training receive a Youth Mental Health First Aider certification that is good for three years.

“I took this course a few years ago, but when my certification expired I wanted to renew it,” said Jane VanHeest, a physical education teacher at Honey Creek Elementary. “Because I come in contact with all the students, 540 students, it is important that I have as many tools in my toolbox as possible. I just want to be aware for my students and be able to keep an eye out for them.”

Rockdale County Public Schools began offering YMHFA training in March 2015 after receiving Now Is The Time: Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), a five-year federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency.

The Project Aware grant funded YMHFA classes until 2017.

Since that time, funding sources have included the Hospital Authority Rockdale County grant, Viewpoint Health and Title I.

As of June 2019, RCPS has trained more than 1,021 people, with 665 of those being RCPS staff.

RCPS currently has nine more classes scheduled through June 2020.

Visit to learn more about YMHFA and the complete course schedule.

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 (ages 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 five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations.