Quick question: Do you know basic first aid?
Most people can’t set fractures, perform CPR or even provide the Heimlich maneuver, but they know enough to do basic first aid, like elevate bleeding injuries above the heart or put ice on a sprain. A Good Samaritan stops the bleeding, talks to the person if it’s a head injury and keeps him or her comfortable until the professionals arrive.
Another quick question: How do you handle a mental health or emotional crisis?
Like many things involving mental illness, the answer isn’t simple. The phrase “mental illness” alone is often enough to make people uncomfortable in a way that “heart attack” or “car accident” doesn’t. A bleeding injury, traumatic as it may be, is easier to process and thus deal with than someone detached from reality. Simply calling 911 can put mentally unstable people at risk; a recent Washington Post report found that at least 125 people displaying signs of mental illness died in police encounters during the first six months of 2015.
So what can people do? The National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) has an idea: Teach people first aid … for mental health.
First aid in five steps
Mental Health First Aid is an import from Australia, where it was created by a nurse and a professor of mental health in 2001. The NCBH, along with its partner, the Missouri Department of Mental Health, operates the program in the U.S. The program uses an eight-hour course to teach the signs and impact of mental disorders, where to find local resources, who to turn to for help and how to assess situations and help.
The cornerstone of the course is the Mental Health First Aid Action Plan, a five-point strategy to help those in mental crisis:
1.Assessing a person’s risk of harm or suicide.
2.Listening to the person nonjudgmentally.
3.Giving reassurance and information on mental health resources.
4.Encouraging the person to seek appropriate professional help.
5.Encouraging the person with self-help and other support strategies.
About 500,000 people in the U.S. have already taken the course, including First Lady Michelle Obama. The courses are taught by certified instructors, often drawn from health service providers, mental health professionals and advocacy organizations. The NCBH’s goal is to have 1 million people take the course. “With 1 in 4 Americans experiencing a mental health or addiction disorder each year, the National Council is committed to making this important training as common as CPR,” says Susan Blue, NCBH board chair.
The mental health crisis
Mental health disorders represent a serious health problem – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported suicides were the 10th leading cause of death in the United States during 2013 – and many people with mental health disorders don’t receive treatment. It’s also an expensive problem; the National Institute of Mental Health estimates the total costs of serious mental illness exceed $300 billion a year. Creating a simple, first aid model of mental health treatment is a first step to changing how mental health disorders are perceived and responded to.
But like any disease, sometimes first aid isn’t enough. Sovereign Health of California offers comprehensive, effective treatment programs for mental health and substance abuse disorders. For more information on our treatment programs, please call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Brian Moore, Sovereign Health Group writer