Humane: Do Some Good
Mental Health First Aid
Last week, news of another school shooting left me thinking... what can I do to help prevent the next one? Violence is a mental health issue. Rather than lament the problem as an inevitable part of human behavior, I believe that we can improve our collective mental health, that societies do not need to accept violence as a way to solve conflict, nor as a way to end discomforting situations.
In my renewed research this week on the subject, I came across Mental Health First Aid. What a simple idea! Just like learning physical first aid, this is an eight hour course designed to teach basic life-saving skills for mental health emergencies. Here’s some information on the idea and how it originated:
Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches you how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The training helps you identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
The program was created in 2001 by Betty Kitchener, a nurse specializing in health education, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor. Kitchener and Jorm run Mental Health First Aid™ Australia, a national non-profit health promotion charity focused on training and research. More information on the history of the course is available at Mental Health First Aid Australia.
Mental Health First Aid is an international program proven to be effective. Peer-reviewed studies published in Australia, where the program originated, show that individuals trained in the program:
• Grow their knowledge of signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions.
• Can identify multiple types of professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental illness or addiction.
• Increase their confidence in and likelihood to help an individual in distress.
• Show increased mental wellness themselves.
Here is an excerpt from an article in The Daily Record (Morris County, New Jersey) which gives more detail:
Living in a troubled economy is taking its toll on people's mental health, particularly among vulnerable populations such as senior citizens. Experts say it's getting to be too much for health professionals to handle alone.
Enter Mental Health First Aid, an eight-hour course for anyone, including first responders, leaders of faith communities and human resources personnel. The course educates participants about the signs and symptoms of mental illness and teaches them to skillfully communicate, de-escalate situations, and connect troubled individuals with expert help. Those who complete the course receive a certificate, valid for three years.
Ultimately, the goal of the course, which started in Australia in 2001 and is sweeping the world, the nation and now the county, is to have even more Americans certified in Mental Health First Aid than are certified in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
"If you have interaction with people at all in your daily life, this course is applicable," said Marissa Ferrito, coordinator of self help, advocacy, and education for the Mountain Lakes-based Mental Health Association of Morris County, which offers more types of Mental Health First Aid courses than any other agency here.
"If someone has a heart attack on the subway, you want someone near them to be trained in CPR," Ferrito explained. "If someone is experiencing a panic attack, it'd be helpful if someone near them was trained in Mental Health First Aid."
According to literature for the courses, a person is more likely to encounter someone with an emotional or psychological crisis than a physical emergency. One in five American adults each year experience some kind of mental illness, according to mentalhealth.gov.
Here’s a link to Youth Mental Health First Aid, launched in 2012.
The approximate cost to train one Mental Health First Aider in your community is $150, and the cost to certify an instructor to teach Mental Health First Aid is $3,000.
Here’s how you can support Mental Health First Aid USA.
Here's how you can find a course near you.