Be a lifesaver, get trained in mental health first aid

The lessons are easy to to learn. The results may save a life.

And given the increased risk and prevalence of mental health issues — especially among our youth — it can't be said enough how important it is to learn Mental Health First Aid — described in a Daily Herald story Sunday as CPR for the mind.

“We've heard so many horrible things in the news lately, if one person had just said, ‘Are you OK?' maybe some of these things wouldn't have happened,” said Wende Pannell, an Aurora therapist.

In the suburbs, the increased use of heroin and subsequent deaths — and the connection of drug abuse to mental health — has proved to be a rallying point for agencies that offer Mental Health First Aid classes. Couple that with tragic examples of teen suicide and it's clear the need is growing.

The National Council on Behavioral Health expects to train 400,000 people this year, double what it has done since it first offered the program in 2008.

Likewise, according to staff writer Marie Wilson's story, the National Alliance on Mental Health in McHenry County has trained 800 people since 2009 and it has seen a marked increase in the wake of two teen suicides in March.

“Because of what happened, we believe everyone needs to be trained,” said Heather Diab, a McHenry County-based certified recovery support specialist.

It's so important for all who come in contact with teens — parents, teachers, friends — to learn the signs and symptoms of mental health distress and know how to react quickly. In the classes, participants are taught a list of steps to follow if they recognize any signs that could be triggers of mental health issues.

They assess the risk for harm; listen without judgment; give reassurance; encourage the person in need to seek appropriate professional help; and encourage them to find support and employ self-help strategies.

Simple but effective.

“It's the initial help that we're offering a young person when they're developing a mental health issue or are in a crisis in particular moment,” said Amy Barth, a social worker at Naperville Central High School. “You may be the first person to suggest that there's help out there.”

Just like CPR, you don't need to be the person to diagnose the problem. You just need to be at ease in providing a listening ear and offer strong suggestions on where they might seek help. A person trained in mental health first aid could be the difference in a teen's life.

“When adolescents can see that you're comfortable and you're confident and you're right there, that can calm them down,” said parent Janet Miskovic of Naperville.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What a gift you could give to yourself and others by getting trained.

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