Mental Health First Aid: An Enlightening Experience

By Jay Shih, Program Analyst

What comes to mind someone says they applied first aid? For me, I think: CPR, 30 and 2, treat for shock, elevate the legs, applying pressure on the wound, doing the Heimlich maneuver, making a splint, etc. You might notice that the majority of those treatments are for physical ailments. If you are like me you might be surprised to learn there is such a thing as Mental Health First Aid.

Mental Health? First Aid? On first glance those two phrases might seem incongruous. But on taking the Mental Health First Aid course as I did, one can easily see the importance and relevance of Mental Health First Aid, especially in today’s America.

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches folks how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The training one receives in the course helps one identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

One in five Americans suffers from a mental illness and many are either reluctant to seek help or do not know where to find professional care. As a society, there still remains a stigma surrounding mental illness as well as an ignorance about the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses. Beyond that, in some cases mental illnesses can be more disabling than many chronic physical illnesses.
The signs and symptoms for mental illness can often be difficult to detect, even for loved ones, and especially without proper training. Many times loved ones might suspect something is wrong, but not know how to deal with the situation or how to direct the person to proper care.

With the Mental Health First Aid training, participants are taught about the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Participants also engage in role-playing and simulations to learn and practice how to act in the event of a mental health crisis, how to provide initial help and support, and how to connect people to the proper professional support as well as self-help resources.

My biggest takeaway from my training in Mental Health First Aid was the realization of sheer number of people in our country who suffer from mental illness and how much of an effect it has not only on the person suffering from mental illness, but also, friends and family. Most people have probably experienced a loved one going through some type of mental illness, be it large or small. With that in mind, it is absolutely imperative that we try to increase awareness and education around mental illness while also increasing the access to proper professional care.

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