A com­mu­nity ap­proach to men­tal health ed­u­ca­tion

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Rich Bayer

— When we think of first aid, we tend to think of cuts, scrapes, ban­dages and bro­ken bones. We tend to think of med­i­cal prob­lems and of course each of us has some knowl­edge about how to take care of these.

But what if we ex­pand the idea of “first aid” to in­clude men­tal health? What if each of us learned tech­niques that could help another per­son who was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health dis­tress?

There is a pro­gram avail­able in Ce­cil County that can give us that in­for­ma­tion. It’s called Men­tal Health First Aid (MHFA). This is an ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram that started in Aus­tralia in 2001 and has gained in pop­u­lar­ity and recog­ni­tion in the U.S. since 2008.


What is Men­tal Health First Aid?

This is an eight-hour course that teaches you how to help some­one who may be de­vel­op­ing a men­tal health prob­lem or who is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a men­tal health cri­sis. The train­ing helps you iden­tify, un­der­stand and re­spond to signs of men­tal ill­ness and also sub­stance use dis­or­ders.

The cur­ricu­lum for the MHFA course pre­pares par­tic­i­pants to be “ed­u­cated re­spon­ders.” It gives par­tic­i­pants the abil­ity to as­sist peo­ple who have is­sues con­cern­ing men­tal health. This com­pares to what the Red Cross First Aid cour­ses of­fer for is­sues con­cern­ing phys­i­cal health.

By tak­ing the MHFA course, par­tic­i­pants learn:

• The risk fac­tors and warn­ing signs of men­tal health prob­lems.

• Facts and in­for­ma­tion on symp­toms of de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, trauma, psy­chosis and ad­dic­tion dis­or­ders.

• A five-step ac­tion plan to help some­one who may be de­vel­op­ing a men­tal health prob­lem or who is presently in cri­sis.

• Where to turn for help, in­clud­ing a de­tailed list of pro­fes­sional, peer and self-help re­sources.

In ad­di­tion, as par­tic­i­pants gain more knowl­edge about men­tal ill­ness, they learn that it is part of the spec­trum of hu­man na­ture. In this sense, the course helps to de-stig­ma­tize men­tal ill­ness. Just as some in­di­vid­u­als de­velop can­cer, some also be­come ex­pe­ri­ence the symp­toms of a men­tal ill­ness. It is just another disease with its own set of symp­toms and its own list of rec­om­mended treat­ments that help to man­age or re­verse the symp­toms.

There are two course types for Men­tal Health First Aid. They are:

• The Adult Men­tal Health First Aid course, which is ap­pro­pri­ate for any­one age 16 and older who wants to learn how to help a per­son who may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a men­tal health-re­lated cri­sis or prob­lem. The adult course is avail­able in both English and Span­ish. Within this cat­e­gory are a few course mod­ules for spe­cial­ized sub-groups. These mod­ules in­clude older adult, vet­er­ans, higher ed­u­ca­tion (fo­cus­ing on in­di­vid­u­als in the col­lege pop­u­la­tion), and pub­lic safety.

• The Youth Men­tal Health First Aid course, which is pri­mar­ily in­tended for adults who want to learn how to help young peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health chal­lenges or crises. It re­views the unique risk fac­tors and warn­ing signs of men­tal health prob­lems in ado­les­cents ages 12 to 18 and em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of early in­ter­ven­tion.

Each MHFA course is of­fered as an eight-hour pro­gram. Some­times the class is pre­sented in one day, with two four-hour seg­ments and a lunch break in be­tween, and some­times the class is pre- sented on two dif­fer­ent days of four hours each.

When MHFA first came to the U.S., Mary­land and Mis­souri were the first two states to adopt it. We now have many cer­ti­fied in­struc­tors. Here in Ce­cil County, we have sev­eral cer­ti­fied MHFA in­struc­tors and classes are al­ready be­ing of­fered.

In fact, the county now re­ceives some grant fund­ing to pro­vide these classes. The Ce­cil County gov­ern­ment has rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of the Men­tal Health First Aid course and awarded some of the Video Lottery Ter­mi­nal funds that come from Hol­ly­wood Casino Per­ryville to make six classes avail­able in the county. These classes are taught and fa­cil­i­tated by cer­ti­fied MHFA in­struc­tor Sheila Mur­phy, com­mu­nity re­la­tions man­ager at Up­per Bay Coun­sel­ing & Sup­port Ser­vices.

No­tably, Chief Richard Brooks, di­rec­tor of the Ce­cil County Depart­ment of Emer­gency Ser­vices, not only at­tended one of the MHFA train­ings him­self, but sub­se­quently had all county emer­gency ser­vices man­agers, in­clud­ing 911 dis­patch­ers and paramedics, at­tend this train­ing as well. It is grat­i­fy­ing to know that Chief Brooks would oc­cupy the Emer­gency Oper­a­tions Cen­ter with a room full of re­spon­ders ex­cited to learn about men­tal health.

It’s good to know that our emer­gency re­spon­ders in Ce­cil County have a work­ing knowl­edge of men­tal health is­sues and that they know how to as­sist peo­ple who are strug­gling with men­tal health prob­lems.

I highly rec­om­mend the Men­tal Health First Aid classes in Ce­cil County to any­one who wants to learn more about men­tal health and, more specif­i­cally, know how to re­spond to some­one who may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health prob­lems.

Dr. Rich Bayer is the CEO of Up­per Bay Coun­sel­ing and Sup­port Ser­vices in Elkton and a prac­tic­ing psy­chol­o­gist.

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