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A Different Kind of First Aid

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Statistics reveal that one in five people live with a mental illness. There are many types of mental illness including anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorder; but mental illness can really be defined best as any mental health condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Mental illness impacts a person’s daily functioning – their ability to get up in the morning, go to work, and have meaningful relationships.

If one in five people live with a mental illness, most likely someone you know, or even you, may have a mental illness. But how can you determine the difference between temporary sadness and actual depression? How do you know if worry is verging on anxiety? And what do you do if someone you care about has thoughts of suicide? Mental Health First Aid can help you answer these and other questions.

Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based program that equips everyday community members with the skills needed to identify symptoms of mental illness and respond confidently in a mental health crisis. The program was created in 2001 when Anthony Jorm and Betty Kitchener identified a need for a program that would allow the layperson to provide emergency first aid response to a mental health crisis. In conjunction with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Missouri Department of Mental Health, the National Council for Behavioral Health founded Mental Health First Aid USA in 2008. Currently, over 400,000 people in the U.S. are certified in Mental Health First Aid.

Similarly to the function of First Aid taught by the American Red Cross, Mental Health First Aid trains community members on how to provide support to someone experiencing a mental illness or mental health crisis until professional help can intervene. Mental Health First Aid teaches a 5-step action plan that helps “First Aiders” to assess a situation, ask appropriate questions, and connect a person with appropriate mental health help or resources.

Speaking on Mental Health First Aid recently at the Change Direction campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “It really gives you the skills you need to identify – and ultimately help – someone in need. Because you never know when these kinds of skills might be useful.” With 20% of the American population experiencing mental illness every year and only 41% of those with mental illnesses receiving mental health services, the need is high for community members to be the first step in getting these people to care.

Because mental illness can affect people in all walks of life, Mental Health First Aid is available in several different focuses: Youth Mental Health First Aid for adults working with youth, traditional Mental Health First Aid for adults assisting adults, and Mental Health First Aid with focuses in Public Safety, Higher Education, Rural Communities, Veterans, or Older Adults.

LifeWays Community Mental Health is proud to offer Mental Health First Aid courses to the Jackson and Hillsdale communities. The course is taught in a single 8-hour format and is offered for a nominal fee to cover the course materials and certification. Scholarships are sometimes available courtesy of local organizations and individual donations. You can find out more about Mental Health First Aid at www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org or sign up for the next available Mental Health First Aid course at LifeWays Community Mental Health at www.lifewayscmh.org/mentalhealthfirstaid.html.

Author: 
LifeWays CMH

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