Do You Know How to Help an Adult Learner in Crisis?

Written by Paula Dincer, First Literacy Program Communications and Data Management

how-to-help-an-adult-learner-in-crisis-first-literacy-blogAdult Basic Education programs are welcoming immigrants, refugees and asylees from war zones and disaster-stricken regions across the globe. Among any program’s adult learners there may be those experiencing:

  • trauma from war, assault, abuse, or severe accidents
  • chronic poverty, homelessness, discrimination, or single parenting
  • survival from a recent or previous disaster, or loss a loved one or friend in a disaster
  • chronic medical illness
  • lack of economic stability and/or knowledge of the English language

These adult learners are most at risk for emotional stress disorders, but because they come to class from very different cultures and levels of stigma around mental health, they may be hard to identify, connect with, and help. An article from Mental Health First Aid notes

“Mental health challenges look different for each person affected… and some mental health challenges can be difficult to recognize. It can be easy to generalize or make assumptions, but realities vary, and these challenges can impact more than you may think.”

Many adults don’t receive the treatment they need because of lack of access to care, or simply not knowing how to ask. According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing,

“40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use. The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years, and the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. are anxiety disorders, which affect 40 million adults or 18.1% of the population.”

Mental health challenges affect everyone differently. Learning to recognize when and how to offer support to someone in crisis could help improve the state of our national mental health.

Adult Mental Health First Aid Training Certification at First Literacy

On March 10 and 17 First Literacy will partner with Emile “Mike” Boutin and Luella Benn of the MGH School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the MGH Institute of Health Professions to offer an Adult Mental Health First Aid Training Certification.

The certification will be offered through Mental Health First Aid, an internationally recognized training program that builds mental health literacy by teaching the public how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses, and how to assess their own views and feelings about mental health disorders. Mental Health First Aid strives to provide the same systemic response to those suffering mental distress and injury as is taught in First Aid and CPR courses to help the physically injured.

The Effects of Mental Illness on Learning

Adult learners who have experienced a lifetime of complex trauma know how it affects their learning. In December 2021 First Literacy offered a workshop in which presenter Allison Hrovat referred to decades of research to describe how the brain’s response to trauma and chronic stress has a significant impact on the learning process. She described methods for building a trauma-informed classroom to support adult learners in crisis.

Tools and techniques from the trauma-informed workshop can be found on the First Literacy Resources for Educators Page. Just enter the workshop title “The Effects of Trauma and Chronic Stress on Learning: What Teachers Can Do” in the search field.

Mental health is an important aspect of any person’s wellbeing and potential future growth.  Learning to recognize the signs of anxiety and emotional stress disorders is paramount to helping adult learners succeed in their goals. With awareness and training, educators have the potential to help adult learners struggling with mental health problems find their way back to a healthy mental wellbeing.

March 2, 2023

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