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You Can Learn Specialized First Aid To Better Address Mental Health

This mental health training isn't like a CPR class. Students don't learn linear skills to perform on mannequins. Instead, they run simulations.
Posted at 4:42 PM, Aug 30, 2019

Much is made of mental health's impact on mass violence, but more and more research shows the actual correlation is very limited. With that said, experts behind an August 2019 National Council of Behavioral Health reportsaid we can still do more to address mental health issues. For individuals, they recommend Mental Health First Aid training.

"They ought to learn a little bit about some of these major mental disorders that we're talking about – schizophrenia bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, these major conditions," Dr. Bechtold, Medical Director and VP Health Care & Integration Jefferson Center for Mental Health told Newsy. "They need to know what it looks like and they need to know how to bring in resources if the need arises. Nobody's envisioning that they need to intervene themselves that they need to treat it. They need to know though that if it's a dangerous situation and by that I mean, the individual isn't bringing risk to them but risk to him or herself.  You know they need to know how they can safely stabilize the situation and then mobilize resources."

Researcher Anthony Jorm and nurse Betty Kitchener started Mental Health First Aid in Australia in 2001. Jorm told Newsy they used controlled trials and scientific research to settle on training that would help adults understand mental illness and crisis.  

"Some recent research we've done in Australia showed that one of the major effects is that people are more willing to talk openly about suicidal feeling after doing mental health first aid training," Jorm told Newsy.

The training isn't like a CPR class. Students aren’t learning linear, concrete skills to perform on a mannequin. Instead, they run through simulations. They talk through different ways anxiety or depression presents itself. They decipher the impact that various physical and mental illnesses have on a patient's life. And they experience what it would be like to hear voices while you’re trying to concentrate on something else. 

"If you have these activities like you know, the hearing voices, you realize how hard it is for somebody to concentrate how disruptive this is and how distressing it could be for a person," Jorm said.

The class is meant for anyone. Some people take it so they can be there for their friends and family. Others use what they've learned to help patients every day.  

"I have family members and friends who go through these mental illnesses and suicidal tendencies and things like that. And it's nice to feel like there's a concrete way to address it and it's flexible enough that you can take person by person and sort of figure out what to do from there," said Lexi Francis, a student in the class.

The National Council for Behavioral Health says more than 325,000 (325,501) Americans have gone through one of these day-long trainings in 2019. Nearly 60 thousand (59,397) of them have come from specialized audiences like higher education professionals, veterans, or rural communities. But in almost every state, only about one percent or less of the population overall has taken a mental health first aid course. Experts and advocates hope more people sign up.

"Well I think everybody should take this course. Honestly I could absolutely see it being beneficial as sort of like a required course for high school. So yeah I absolutely think more people could take the course and benefit from it," Kaelble told Newsy.