We designed the Behavior Indicator Training (BIT) program for all educators in the state of Florida, providing effective knowledge dissemination relating to common mental health disorders and difficulties experienced by youth (e.g., anxiety disorders, bullying, depressive disorders, substance abuse, suicidality, and self-injurious behavior). A primary goal of the BIT program is to promote all educators’ mental health literacy in the state of Florida, increasing earlier identification and intervention for youth struggling with mental disorders, and reducing their propensity to do harm to themselves and others. Mental health literacy is individuals’ understanding and beliefs about mental disorders and increased mental health literacy relates to early identification and intervention. Currently, we have seven instructional modules for educators within the BIT program:
- Youth Suicide Awareness and Prevention
- Youth Self-injurious Behavior
- Depression in Youth
- Anxiety in Youth
- Bullying in Youth
- Cyberbullying in Youth
- Substance Abuse in Youth (in development)
The Need for the Behavioral Indicator Training (BIT) Program
Mental health literacy is individuals’ understanding and beliefs about mental disorders and increased mental health literacy relates to early identification and intervention. In addition, most mental health disorders first appear during childhood and increases in prevalence into adolescence.
The need for mental health literacy among educators is significant. During the second half of the academic year in 2018 (January 2018 – June 2018), there were 23 school shootings in the United States. These violent incidents at schools have direct links to individuals with mental health instability. Therefore, increasing all educators’ mental health literacy may increase earlier identification and intervention for youth struggling with mental disorders, reducing their propensity to do harm to themselves and others.
In addition, 353 school age youth (ages 5 to 19) completed suicide in the state of Florida during a two-year period, 2015-2017. Further, for every youth suicide, there are between 100 to 200 youth suicide attempts, translating to between 17,650 and 35,300 youth attempting suicide in the state of Florida per year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2017 data), 17.2% of high school students reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the prior 12 month period; 13.6% made a plan for suicide, 7.4% attempted suicide one or more times, and 2.4% made a suicide attempt requiring medical attention. Further, there was a statistically significant (p < .05) increase from 2007-2017 in the percentage of students who reported considering and planning suicide. Translating these research findings to a classroom in the state of Florida, approximately 4 to 5 students in a high school mathematics course of 25 students will seriously consider attempting suicide during the upcoming school year. Nevertheless, educators enter the teaching profession without training in mental health issues commonly experienced by school age youth, as the state of Florida does not require mental health preparation for certification as a teacher. Therefore, the BIT program serves as a catalyst for training educators about common mental health issues experienced by school age youth in the state of Florida.