Mental Health First Aid - Sovereign Health Group
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12-16-13 Category: Mental Health

As we enter 2014 an innovative form of parity between first aid for mental health and medical problems is taking root in the United States.

First Aid Training for Mental Health Issues

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a program that originated in Australia in 2001, has spread to more than 20 countries including the U.S., to fill a void. The purpose of the program is to make people more comfortable when they encounter someone showing signs of mental illness or substance abuse.

Too often, people don’t know what to do under those circumstances, partly because mental illness is not as well understood as physical illness, and partly because there is a stigma associated with mental illness despite years of effort to remove it.

Mental health literacy instructor Anthony Jorm and his wife Betty Kitchener, a Red Cross first aid instructor who had experienced recurrent bouts of severe depression, created the program to address the need that they had identified. They have helped spread MHFA internationally.

Mental Health Issues In The United States

Federal statistics in the U.S. show that about one in four adults will experience a mental disorder in any given year. Mental health problems are more common than heart disease, lung disease and cancer combined, so it is important to educate the public about how to respond when they encounter such situations, rather than reacting with fear or ignorance.

“It’s as important as learning CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation),” says Jerry Ibarra, Sovereign Health’s Aftercare T.E.A.M. (Technology Enhanced Aftercare and Monitoring) Case Manager in San Clemente, who became MHFA-certified in March of 2013.

He got CPR certification many years ago, and took the MHFA course partly because it relates to his volunteer activities. The MHFA certification is increasingly required by employers, particularly those who have dually-diagnosed clients with mental illness and substance abuse issues, Ibarra says.

Sovereign Health Group is based in San Clemente, CA, and is accredited and licensed by the Joint Commission for treatment of both mental health and addiction issues. Sovereign Health is a leading residential treatment center, offering programs for mental health, substance abuse and eating disorders.

The Goal Of Mental Health First Aid Course Certification

First aid courses are designed to train people to recognize symptoms of physical distress and intervene effectively, preventing further injury or even death. But few people know how to intervene effectively when they encounter someone in distress due to behavioral health problems – mental illness or substance abuse.

Often, they simply ignore it. The MHFA program was created to give people the skills to recognize behavioral health issues, assess risks, and help someone who is in distress whether it is in the workplace or in public.

First aid skills for behavioral health issues can also give people the skills they need to help a loved one with a chronic or acute mental health problem. In the U.S., MHFA has been incorporated into the National Dialogue on Mental Health that was initiated as part of the federal government’s response to recent mass shootings such as the Dec. 14, 2012 incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Education Battles Myths Of Mental Illness

The training material combats myths about mental illness. For example, it stresses the fact that people with mental illness are no more likely to be dangerous than any other group of people. In fact, research shows that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. The program is designed to improve “mental health literacy,” providing a basic understanding of mental illnesses and addictions, how they can affect people in their daily lives, and how to help when they are in crisis or recover from ongoing challenges.

The course, which was recently reduced from 12 hours to eight, enables participants to “learn risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help.” The training is intended to give people the confidence to help someone who is experiencing problems related to mental health, substance abuse or an eating disorder.

It is designed to benefit people working in social and human services agencies, law enforcement and corrections officers, attorneys, nursing home staff, educators, nurses, counselors, employers and human resources professionals. Others who can benefit from the training include clergy and members of faith communities and family members of a person with a substance abuse problem or mental illness.

“When I took the course, there were people from all walks of life,” ranging from someone whose wife suffered from depression to EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians),” says Ibarra.

Course Checklist

The essence of the course is a five-step action plan or checklist known as ALGEE, designed to enable participants to assess and assist someone who is developing a mental health problem, or who is in crisis. They are taught to:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

Endorsement Of Mental Health First Aid Programs

Champions include the National Council for Behavioral Health, as well as the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Missouri Department of Mental Health. The three entities have formed Mental Health First Aid USA. President Barack Obama has also endorsed it.

There are more than 3,500 certified instructors who have trained more than 120,000 people in all 50 states since the Mental First Aid Program was launched in the U.S. in 2008. In July, 2013, Mental Health First Aid was added to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).

Training to be an adult Mental Health First Aid instructor takes five days, and is approved by:

  • The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) for 32 Social Work continuing education contact hours
  • The Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) for 32 continuing education hours
  • The California Board of Behavioral Sciences – which covers all state-licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs), Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) and Licensed Educational Psychologists, (LEPs) – for 32 Continuing Education Credits

If you want to get treatment for a loved one who has mental health, substance abuse or eating disorders, or co-occurring problems, contact Sovereign Health Group at (866) 629-0442.

Blog Post By: Jared Friedman

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