Get­ting train­ing in first aid for men­tal health

Res­i­dents taught signs to look for in deal­ing with sub­jects

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­

Help­ing to ed­u­cate and in­form the pub­lic on ways to iden­tify, un­der­stand and re­spond to signs of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a men­tal ill­ness or cri­sis, Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion of Mary­land Chief Pro­gram Of­fi­cer Lea Ann Brown­ing McNee and Prince Ge­orge’s County State’s At­tor­ney An­gela Al­so­brooks hosted a men­tal health first aid sem­i­nar dur­ing a monthly “Com­mu­nity in the Court­house” meet­ing on April 22 at the Prince Ge­orge’s County District Court­house in Up­per Marl­boro.

The Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion of Mary­land (MHAMD), based in Lutherville, is the state’s only vol­un­teer, non­profit cit­i­zen’s or­ga­ni­za­tion that brings to­gether con­sumers, fam­i­lies, pro­fes­sion­als, ad­vo­cates and con­cerned cit­i­zens for uni­fied ac­tion in all as­pects of men­tal health and men­tal ill­ness. For the last 100 years, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been ded­i­cated to of­fer­ing the lat­est men­tal health re­search, ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing to the com­mu­nity. Ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, MHAMD achieves this through ad­vo­cacy and pub­lic pol­icy, com­mu­nity ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing as well as ser­vices over­sight pro­grams.

“From a train­ing per­spec­tive, we’re try­ing to kind of get out­side of just the men­tal health field,” McNee said in an in­ter­view. “To re­ally help peo­ple, we need to be em­bed­ded in com­mu­ni­ties. So that’s why we have train­ing at li­braries, train­ing in pub­lic safety fields, train­ing at the lo­cal hospi­tal where you take your child­birth class and your di­a­betes man­age­ment class. So why wouldn’t you take your men­tal health first aid class there too? Those are the types of places where we see the need. … We think that peo­ple who are ex­posed to trauma and peo­ple who live in com­mu­ni­ties where there is more cri­sis def­i­nitely need a pro­gram like Men­tal Health First Aid. They need this kind of train­ing so that they can take care of one an­other and help one an­other.”

Men­tal Health First Aid is an eighthour na­tional cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course that is de­signed to teach the layper­son the skills to rec­og­nize the signs of a men­tal health or sub­stance use dis­or­der cri­sis, iden­tify com­mu­nity re­sources and link in­di­vid­u­als in need of treat­ment and sup­port to the proper re­sources. Par­tic­i­pants learn a five- step ac­tion plan, called ALGEE, which en­tails as­sess­ing for risk of sui­cide or harm; lis­ten­ing non-judg­men­tally; giv­ing re­as­sur­ance and in­for­ma­tion; en­cour­ag­ing

ap­pro­pri­ate pro­fes­sional help; and en­cour­ag­ing self-help and other sup­port strate­gies, ac­cord­ing to MHAMD.

“When peo­ple are us­ing sub­stances be­cause they have other prob­lems, they are self-med­i­cat­ing,” McNee said. “There’s a lot of re­search now that’s com­ing out. We al­ways kind of thought that the men­tal health prob­lem came first. So maybe you had the de­pres­sion, the anx­i­ety or some of those symp­toms or maybe the trauma, and then the sub­stance use. And that’s true for a whole lot of peo­ple. But what we’re also find­ing now, as we learn more and more how our brains work, is that for a lot of peo­ple, the sub­stances can be the risk fac­tor to be­gin with.”

In her pre­sen­ta­tion, McNee ex­plained there are two ver­sions of the MHFA course. Core Men­tal Health First Aid helps adults, age of 18 and older, who may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a men­tal health prob­lem or cri­sis. The pro­gram — avail­able in both English and Span­ish — teaches the signs and symp­toms a per­son may ex­pe­ri­ence with com­mon men­tal health prob­lems such as de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, psy­chosis and sub­stance use as well as risk fac­tors for each. Pop­u­la­tion-spe­cific mod­ules are also avail­able and in­tended to blend with the eight-hour MHFA pro­gram. The mod­ules are tar­geted to­ward older adults, vet­er­ans, col­lege stu­dents as well as for peo­ple who work in pub­lic safety, law en­force­ment or cor­rec­tions, McNee said.

“For the core pro­gram, there are spe­cial­ized mod­ules that re­ally ad­dress where peo­ple are in their com­mu­ni­ties. So folks who are con­nected to the mil­i­tary is one and there’s one for older adults,” McNee said. “We do a lot of train­ing with like se­nior cen­ters and as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties with that older adults mod­ule. There’s a higher ed­u­ca­tion mod­ule for com­mu­nity col­leges and other col­leges. And there’s a pub­lic safety mod­ule for po­lice, cor­rec­tions and even broader than that, all the peo­ple in the com­mu­nity that are re­spon­si­ble for [han­dling] crises.”

The sec­ond ver­sion, Youth Men­tal Health First Aid, is a course de­signed for adults who work with youth be­tween the ages of 12 and 17. This pro­gram, also avail­able in English and Span­ish, teaches signs and symp­toms of emerg­ing men­tal health prob­lems and how to dif­fer­en­ti­ate po­ten­tial prob­lems from typ­i­cal ado­les­cent devel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to MHAMD.

“I re­ally be­lieve deeply that most peo­ple want to do the right thing, but they’re not sure what the right thing is,” McNee said. “We don’t want to make a sit­u­a­tion worse. We don’t want to cause harm so we have a ten­dency to not even fol­low our own in­stincts. And so what [MHFA] does is it gives you skills to back up those in­stincts and some con­fi­dence to be able to re­ally fol­low through.”

Since 2007, MHAMD has trained more than 20,000 Mary­lan­ders in MHFA; taught more than 1,200 Men­tal Health First Aid classes through­out Mary­land to di­verse au­di­ences; de­vel­oped a net­work of ded­i­cated in­struc­tors who in­tro­duce the pro­gram to their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties; and pro­vided dis­counts and schol­ar­ships to keep the pro­gram ac­ces­si­ble, ac­cord­ing to McNee’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

For McNee, MHFA is needed be­cause it in­creases knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing, en­cour­ages peo­ple help­ing peo­ple, sup­ports peo­ple get­ting help, de­creases so­cial dis- tance and in­creases men­tal well­ness. In ad­di­tion, many peo­ple are not well in­formed and do not know how to re­spond, she said.

McNee said MHAMD’s top pri­or­i­ties in­clude help­ing kids with high needs and mak­ing sure cri­sis re­sources are avail­able statewide, she said.

“We are just now in the process of set­ting up a new chap­ter in Prince Ge­orge’s County. It’s go­ing to fo­cus largely on ed­u­ca­tion first,” McNee said. “We’re cer­tainly hop­ing to do more with the state’s at­tor­ney and we’ve been very happy to work with the [county’s] health depart­ment. That’s the rea­son we came to an event like this – we want to con­nect with peo­ple who are ready and re­ally find those part­ner­ships that are go­ing to em­bed [MHFA] into the fab­ric of Prince Ge­orge’s County.”

Ernest Can­las of Clin­ton, who serves on the Mt. Airy Es­tates Home­own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion board of di­rec­tors, said MHFA is something that he didn’t re­ally pay much at­ten­tion to be­cause it’s a topic that’s for­eign and out of the or­di­nary.

But thanks to McNee, Can­las said he be­lieves MHAMD’s ser­vices would be ben­e­fi­cial for the county.

“In my per­cep­tion of men­tal health, I had the be­lief the prob­lem was due to just a brain dis­or­der. I never re­ally broke it down to the fact drugs and al­co­hol prob­a­bly caused that dis­or­der,” Can­las said in an email. “I be­lieve that her ser­vices would be a ben­e­fit for [Prince Ge­orge’s] County sim­ply be­cause of how it would ed­u­cate peo­ple.”


Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion of Mary­land Chief Pro­gram Of­fi­cer Lea Ann Brown­ing McNee speaks about the Men­tal Health First Aid pro­gram dur­ing Prince Ge­orge’s County State’s At­tor­ney An­gela Al­so­brooks’ monthly “Com­mu­nity in the Court­house” meet­ing on April 22 at the Prince Ge­orge’s County District Court­house in Up­per Marl­boro. Prior to join­ing MHAMD, McNee was the out­reach and devel­op­ment of­fi­cer for the Na­tional Coun­cil for Com­mu­nity Be­hav­ioral Healthcare where she helped lead the launch of Men­tal Health First Aid- USA and cre­ated new pro­grams con­nect­ing ed­u­ca­tion to pol­icy and prac­tice pri­or­i­ties.

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