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LUDLOW — Ludlow CARES Coalition has begun working with the community to help with the mental health epidemic.

“Ludlow CARES coalition wants to build a prevention prepared community,” Ludlow CARES President Laura Rooney said, “We want to help build that bridge between organizations and fill the gaps.”

Ludlow CARES Coalition is a volunteer organization that provides education, support and awareness to promote the health and well being of the community, especially youth.

“When we started, we focused on the opioid epidemic and bullying, those were the topics at the time. Through the years we have realized that those are symptoms of other issues. Probably in 2016, 2017 there were a lot of discussion in our meeting about mental health,” Rooney said.

Rooney added that those conversations began to materialize, and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the problems the organization was seeing with mental health.

“We never knew what to do about it. We’re not therapists, we didn’t know what was out there that would make an impact on the community or that would be helpful,” Rooney said.

Rooney added that Ludlow CARES tried to lift everyone’s spirits during the pandemic including “Share the Care,” which highlighted good and positive things in the community along with hosting dance parties.

Rooney herself has taken a youth mental health first aid class before and thinks it was useful.

She added, “It was a course that I wish I had taken when I had young kids. I’m in this course thinking I should of done that, I should of done that, I should have done that but having said that, having adult children, it’s helped me respond differently.”

When Karen Carreira decided to come to her first CARES meeting and eventually give a presentation on her work, Rooney knew they could help promote mental health first aid classes.

Carreira said her background has been the mental health field and human services “forever” but shifted directly to prevention work in 2018 after losing her 15-year-old son Nathan to suicide that same year.

Nathan was a freshman at Ludlow High School, which has led Carreira to be on board with the Massachusetts Board of America Foundation for Suicide Prevention and certified in all levels of mental health first aid programs.

Last year, Carreira said she wanted to figure out a way to give back to Ludlow, which led her to volunteering with the Ludlow CARES coalition.

“From that point on I kind of rallied and reinvented myself in terms of the purpose of how I would remember him, think about him and call attention to the mental health crisis for youth and in general across the country by doing advocacy work training and public speaking,” she added.

Ludlow CARES began offering free mental health first aid classes for those 18 and older.

Rooney added, “Everything starts slowly so we slowly began to get people to take these classes and we got a couple of individuals who were parents or worked at the Boys and Girls Club or teacher or coaches or whatever. Slowly but surely the momentum started building and we had some amazing things happening with the classes.”

Ludlow CARES Coalition continues its mental health initiative by sponsoring both adult and youth mental health first aid certification for those that work or live in Ludlow.

At the time of publication, the adult mental health first aid classes took place with two interactive sessions via Zoom from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Jan. 24 and 25.

The youth mental health first aid classes will include two interactive webinar sessions via Zoom from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

The program requires two hours of pre-work.

To register, email your name, class selection and Ludlow affiliation to Ludlowcares@gmail.com.

To check out what each course offers, you can visit www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/courses.
According to Rooney and Carreira, the courses are set to be useful but are just the tip of the iceberg in helping those struggling with mental health.

Carreira added, “There are a lot of people talking about mental health but there are action steps and items that Ludlow CARES has taken and done that people can see. We have the ability to schedule classes when the need is there so these two are in January but we would also like to provide opportunities for people ongoing.”

One of those future action items includes a partnership between Ludlow CARES and Ludlow Public Schools where Superintendent Frank Tiano has agreed to have all teachers receive youth mental health first aid training during their professional development day in March.

The training will include 20 instructors teaching approximately 300 teachers.

“We have plans for all the staff, but we are starting with teachers this professional development day. Typically, the cost of this is $75 to $100 per student but Karen Carreira with her relationship with AFSP as well as CARES and our relationship with other organizations in the community we were able to fund this and not have it solely on the school district,” Rooney said.

Approximately 75% of the funds are coming from AFSP to help get the teachers mental health first aid certification.

“That is huge for CARES. A national organization endorsing an initiative that we are doing, that is bigger than anything we desired to go for,” Rooney said.

Rooney added that Ludlow CARES have more plans in place to continue helping Ludlow.

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