Mental Health First Aid
With the right knowledge, anyone can respond.
Recently, three of our clinicians joined the ranks of Certified Mental Health First Aid Instructors. Manager of Training and Staff Development, Kathleen Bambrick; Manager of Community Support Programs, Mary Fielding; and Clinical Staff Responder, Melissa Bickler completed the week-long training program and are teaching the adult curriculum. But what is mental health first aid?
Ask someone to define first aid, and he or she will likely mention CPR, EMS, ice packs, gauze, over-the-counter analgesics, and a host of additional supplies often found in first aid kits. With origins as far back as 500 BC— where ancient artwork depicted images of wounded warriors being bandaged—first aid has steadily evolved to keep up with the hazards of modern day society. Today, training courses are offered by the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, and several other organizations that encourage us to learn the basics of first aid as soon as we are old enough to understand its importance.
Whether formally trained or not, most people have the ability to identify a medical emergency and respond by providing some kind of assistance until professional help arrives—if needed. But how do we recognize a mental health emergency? How do we identify someone in distress, and how can we help? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in five Americans will face a diagnosable mental disorder in any one year. Given that statistic, the possibility of coming across someone experiencing a mental health issue is very real, and with the right knowledge and skills, any one of us can lend a hand.
The concept of first aid for mental health was first developed in 2001 by Australians Betty Kitchener, a health education nurse and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor. Together, they created the Mental Health First Aid Training and Research Program with the mission to provide high quality, evidence-based mental health first aid education to everyone. Since then, 23 countries across the globe have adapted the program, offering adult and youth courses, as well as a certification program for instructors. Beginning with an overview of mental health literacy—a basic understanding of various mental illnesses—each course outlines an action plan for reaching out to people in both crisis and non-crisis situations, with opportunities to practice skills through role playing and other hands-on activities.
Here in the United States, the National Council for Behavioral Health, the Missouri Department of Mental Health, and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene managed the introduction of Mental Health First Aid USA™ and are active in arranging instructor training sessions, delivering technical assistance, and modifying program content for American audiences. Sharing the same vision, these organizations continue to work with participants around the world to exchange feedback and ensure that the program curriculum remains “a blueprint for providing comfort, promoting recovery, and helping to reduce distress related to stressful situations, trauma, and crisis.”
The growing commitment to programs like Mental Health First Aid is encouraging to me, as increased acknowledgement of mental health conditions as treatable illnesses can only lead to a greater understanding of those who live with them. While we may never need mental health first aid—or encounter someone who does—wouldn’t it be reassuring to know that we live and work in communities where recognizing and providing support to someone in distress is as natural as reaching for a Band-Aid?
To find a Mental Health First Aid class near you, or learn more about instructor certification, click here.
South Shore Mental Health