MAPLE SHADE — If you have more adults cognizant of the signs and symptoms of a child dealing with mental health issues, that child is more likely to get the help they need before the illness leads to potentially severe outcomes.

Staff from three New Jersey school districts on Wednesday received the first dose of a three-day training program on "youth mental health first aid" — an initiative by Mental Health Association in New Jersey, supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's New Jersey Health Initiatives.

Upon completion, staffers will be certified to go back to their schools and communities and teach the same lessons to other faculty and adults.

"They'll be able to go out and recognize warning signs and symptoms and also know how to help somebody in a crisis or non-crisis situation," said Jermine Alberty, national trainer for Mental Health First Aid USA.

Just as someone with physical first-aid skills can save an individual who may be choking on their food at a restaurant, Alberty said, those equipped with mental health first-aid skills can provide the proper comfort to someone suffering from a panic attack or suicidal thoughts.

Participants are trained in a five-step action plan to support someone developing signs of a crisis or a mental health issue.

It's estimated that about 72,000 school-aged New Jersey children experience a major depressive episode on an annual basis. Fewer than one third receive treatment.

"Some people are hesitant to even want to have a conversation about it, so I think if you are able to have some skills or recognition, then I think we can better assist kids in school," said Joell Worster, supervisor of special education and support services at Lower Cape May Regional School District.

Worster said faculty will also spread the knowledge they've learned to folks beyond school grounds, such as church groups.

Faculty from Freehold and Maple Shade also attended the event at Ralph J. Steinhauer Elementary School.

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