Gray County Extension Agent Joan Gray-Soria accredited for Mental Health First Aid


A mental health patient can experience a crisis at any time and they often happen quickly.

Gray County Extension Agent Joan Gray-Soria recently took part in a program for youth mental health first aid through the National Council for Behavioral Health.

“The program was originally started in Australia,” Gray-Soria said. “It provides evidence-based research on helping people identify individuals in a mental health issue or crisis.”

There are two programs: Mental Health First Aid (Adults) and Youth Mental Health First Aid (pre-teen through early college).

“[Youth Mental Health First Aid] is designed to work with those who work with youth to identify if kids are in a mental health decline or crisis situation and what to do (if they are),” Gray-Soria said. “For us to render that first aid and take that first step in the identification of the problem and direct them to a professional to get help.”

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, death by suicide has become one of the leading causes of death for teens in America. This program aims to train youth professionals to be able to identify teens in crisis before it gets deadly.

“We go through things to help people identify,” Gray-Soria said. “Maybe their appearance has changed or their attitude towards things have changed. Maybe they are exhibiting anxieties. Maybe they are having an anxiety attack, how do we react to that?

“It could be substance abuse or they may be toying with that idea. There are a lot of moving parts to it. It’s designed for people like me or you to be able to identify that something is up and have the boldness to go and ask.”

The program is also designed to help remove the stigma around talking about mental health and allow patients’ families to rally around those ailments.

“If we came in and said my child was diagnosed with this physical ailment, we know in ‘x’ of weeks it will be fixed and everyone moves on,” Gray-Soria said. “There’s no shame in saying my child broke a leg, or has diabetes or has been diagnosed with cancer.

“But if we say, my child is experiencing paranoia or hallucinating, people say it’s weird and take a step back instead of surrounding them with the love we do on physical ailments. Mental health and rallying around it is just as important. If we can remove that stigma, then people will seek help and treatment.”

Gray-Soria teaches the programs through the Extension Service along with Wendy Hazzard in Wheeler County, earning an accreditation (2022 District I Team Teaching Award) in the process.

“In order to teach the program, you have to teach it with somebody else,” Gray-Soria said. “I work with the Extension Agent in Wheeler County, Wendy Hazzard. We partnered with the agent in Hutchinson County and for this particular award, we trained around 200 of the Borger ISD employees.”

Gray-Soria said they have also taught some of the Pampa ISD employees and grants are available to reach more youth professionals such as coaches, youth pastors and other school administration/staff.

“There are grants available that will pay for youth leaders’ registration fees ($50),” Gray-Soria said. “We can do all day in-person or a blended virtual/classroom. We can also do all virtual. I’ve had the opportunity to teach all three ways.

“The way that seems to be favored by all is the blended. The certification is good for three years.”

For more information on this program, call Gray County Extension Service at 806-669-8033.