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Mental Health First Aid a new way to respond to emergencies

Aug. 09, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

"First aid" generally describes the initial care provided to another person when there has been an accident or an injury. First aid might be as simple as cleansing a child's small cut or scrape and getting a bandage to cover the wound, mixed in with some reassurance that "It's going to be alright" and other similar supportive or consoling statements.

Special medical training or other qualifications are not always required to administer basic first aid, just the desire to want to help others. When there is anything more than a small scrape or cut, first aid training includes "check" the scene for any on-going threats to your own safety, "call" 911 for help and "care" for the injured or ill person.

Psychological first aid or mental health first aid is a new way of responding to events that eaffect a person's psychological well-being and how we help people whose ability to cope with a situation is inadequate. Mental health first aid is about training people to provide basic psychological "first aid."

Mental health first aid is designed to provide education about psychological well-being and provide practical strategies to friends and families, police officers, school personnel, administrators, nursing staff, business owners and their employees, members of professional associations, primary care staff, parents groups, faith based communities, government employees and others.

Mental health first aid teaches people to identify, understand and decide what to do when a person is experiencing psychological distress. Mental health first aid training focuses on the risk factors and warning signs of stress related problems, the impact mental health issues have on individual functioning, and includes an overview of the most common treatments for a variety of psychological stress and mental illness.

Mental health first aid training provides specific information about depression, anxiety, psychosis, trauma, eating disorders, addictions and self-injury. The prevalence of mental health problems is reviewed during the training, including the fact that 25 percent of all people will experience a mental health difficulty every year (see www.nimh.nih.gov). Training reviews stigma about mental health issues. Practical skills are taught during the training, including, the five actions to take to help a person. The training includes information about different treatment options, including professional help, peer-based support and self-help resources designed to help people overcome psychological distress.

The five steps mental health first aid responders are taught can be remembered by the acronym "ALGEE". The "A" stands for "Assess", as in, assess for suicidal processes. Suicidal processes start with thoughts -- thinking it would be better to be dead, thinking others would be better off, thoughts about the funeral service, and other similar thoughts. Suicide can progress from thinking about it to planning. When a person starts to consider or take action toward a method for suicide (how to do it), the potential for lethal suicide increases. Intervention is necessary to prevent the person from going through with the plan. It is a myth that if you ask someone about suicide you are giving them ideas or causing them to escalate; instead, asking is the only way you can know to call for help immediately or support them in calling for help themselves.

The "L" in the acronym "ALGEE" stands for "Listening," without judging. Seems simple, just having someone who is listening when we struggle will help. Listening communicates acceptance and understanding. Listening requires patience and restraint. Refrain from giving advice, there is probably nothing new you can say that either they don't already know or have not already heard. Being a better listener would go a long way for many of us.

The "G" in the acronym "ALGEE" stands for "Give", as in, give reassurance and give information. People can and do recover from psychological distress and mental illness, and often need reassurance that they are going to be alright and can get better. Giving information about symptoms and illnesses helps provide emotional support and bring a sense of normalcy to a difficult situation.

The "E" and "E" in the acronym "ALGEE" is for "Encouraging" the person to seek professional help and peer-support help or self-help. Doctors, social workers, counselors, psychologists and trained peer support staff can help with therapy, medication, counseling and other supports. Encouraging peer support or social support and self-help allows people to feel in control of their own recovery -- there are self-help resources and social support groups that people can use to help themselves.

People trained in mental health first aid report improved confidence in their ability to help other people and report they are more likely to promote people going for professional help (see www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org). Education about mental wellness and mental illness reduces stigma. One day, mental health first aid training will be as common as CPR training.

Prestera Center offers professional and trained peer support counseling for adults, children and families experiencing behavioral health problems. Individuals and families get better with the right kind of care. Prestera Center offers a variety of services that promote mental wellness.

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective professional mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane. Offices in Winfield are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex (304-586-0670). Offices in Hurricane are called "Hopewell" and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road (304-757-8475). The Hopewell offices specialize in serving adults with insurance in need of addiction treatment and mental health problems like grief, depression and anxiety or more severe mental health problems. Both offices are accepting new clients and scheduling appointments. Walk-ins are also welcome Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the Winfield location.

Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.