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Melissa Wahlin, Allyson Russell, Courtney Sailer, Dan Trottier

Bismarck Public Schools staff, from left, Melissa Wahlin, Allyson Russell, Courtney Sailer and Dan Trottier took a mental health "first aid" course, where they learned the signs of a mental health disorder, on Thursday.

Kacie Schlecht likened the training to learning how to do CPR.

It's a simple, easy-to-follow protocol for how to respond when a person is in crisis. Unlike CPR training, on Thursday, Schlecht learned how to respond to a student exhibiting suicidal behaviors or other mental health disorders.

"It's like CPR: It's kind of a quick, temporary response until you can get professional help," said Schlecht, a school counselor at Wachter Middle School.

This week, a group of 30 middle and high school counselors, social workers and school psychologists took a Mental Health First Aid course. The program is operated by the National Council for Behavioral Health and is geared toward youth ages 12 to 18.

The training was provided through $1.4 million the Bismarck School Board set aside last year for school safety and student mental health efforts.

After the funding was allocated, district officials formed a task force, which decided to spend some of the money on Mental Health First Aid training, according to Brigitte Johnson, a staff developer and school psychologist.

Johnson, a member of the task force, said the idea was to offer the training as a trial run with school counselors, social workers and school psychologists to see if it would be beneficial for teachers.

"It's not about making (teachers and staff) mental health professionals, but about building awareness around mental health issues and when to recognize a student in crisis," she said.

Staff members received eight hours of Mental Health First Aid training this week, which was provided by FirstLink, of Fargo.

The goal of the training is to help people recognize the signs of mental health and substance use disorders. Trainees aren't taught to diagnose or offer therapy but, instead, learn how to respond using a five-step approach and the handy acronym, ALGEE.

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm

  • Listen non-judgmentally

  • Give reassurance and information

  • Encourage appropriate professional help

  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

Schlecht said her "aha moment" during the training was discovering that it was as simple as learning the steps you would take in an emergency medical situation.

"As a school counselor, I have pretty in-depth training of mental health, but as far as the quick, simple and easy ... I think this (training) would be great for people in the community," she said, including parents and teachers.

Cassie Kisse, a school counselor at Century High School who took part in the training, said the course was helpful in understanding how she can help other staff members and teachers to recognize the signs of mental health disorders.

Teachers are the ones at the "front line" and interact with students the most, she said, and therefore it would be beneficial for them to have more of an awareness of mental health.

"Mental health needs have increased so much. I've been a high school counselor, this is my sixth year, my job today compared to what it was six years ago is drastically different," she said, adding that she has been working more with students on their social-emotional needs.

Johnson said that the district task force will gather feedback from those who took the training this week then decide whether to offer it to teachers and other staff members in the district's middle schools and high schools.

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or


Education and Health Reporter