Selena Sermeño

UWC-USA offers youth mental health first aid course

A few years ago while back home in Venezuela, Jesus Lara Rivas ’21 had a friend collapse from a mental breakdown.

“The guy got crazy and was beating himself on the wall,” Jesus said. “We were holding him on the ground.”

Since taking the Youth Mental Health First Aid course at the United World College-USA, he now feels better equipped to handle this type of situation.

“I would’ve tried to calm him down, taken him to a private place and requested an ambulance (instead of dealing with the situation) in the middle of the street,” Jesus said.

Selena Sermeno, a psychologist who mentors United World College students at the U.S. and Costa Rican campuses, has been teaching the course since October 2019. A total of 33 employees and students have participated in one of three sessions this academic year with a fourth session scheduled from 1 to 6 p.m. March 5 via Zoom.

“We offer the course in order to build our capacity as a UWC community to offer early intervention to anyone within our community experiencing a mental and/or emotional challenge,” Selena said. “It is our duty as educators to have basic literacy in mental health, its meaning, and its manifestations in a youth popI will be offering a Youth Mental Health First Aid  course via Zoom on March 5th from 1:00 to 6:00 pm. Please read all of the details below if you are interested in becoming certified. 

Fourteen slots are available for the course, which involves a two-hour self-paced mandatory portion participants must take no later than 72 hours prior to the virtual course. Students must be at least 18 to take it. 

 Jesus recommends taking the course.

“I’m really interested in mental health and this is more like you are in the first line of defense,” he said. “You see the signs for a situation, you stabilize the person, and call for professional help.”

A few states require the course for teachers working with adolescents. There is a high correlation between mental health, social and emotional learning, and academic success, Selena said.

“We want our approach to education, particularly during COVID, to reflect evidence based practices in education and grow our capacity for compassionate interventions as educators,” she said. “YMHFA is an evidenced based practice for early intervention with youth experiencing a mental health and/or emotional challenge.”

The courses focuses on early intervention to prevent the escalation or onset of a mental/emotional health crisis such as suicide and other forms of self-harm. It can be thought of as the equivalent of CPR.

“It offers basic definitions of adolescent development, the incidence of mental health issues in youth within the USA and it provides a simple but powerful frame for responding to a mental health challenge, disorder or crisis,” Selena said. “The course also addresses the impact of traumatic events as the most impactful factor in someone’s mental health.”

People who complete the course earn a three-year certification.  

If interested in taking the class, email 


Stay Connected

Annual FUnd Announcement!

A generous group of alumni will match your annual fund gift!
Gifts made by 11:59 PM on May 31 will be matched, up to $60,750!

Science students