NEWARK – In a medical emergency, those trained in first aid know what to do: Check the ABCs — airways, breathing, circulation. Stop the bleeding. Treat the victim until help arrives.
A mental-health emergency, local professionals contend, should be no different.
Mental Health and Recovery is offering free mental health first aid training to local organizations in Licking and Knox counties. The eight-hour training will empower participants to better recognize whether someone is in a mental-health crisis and will teach them how to respond.
It’s not meant as a replacement for traditional mental-health treatment — counseling, support groups, etc. — but it’s a way to offer help and support during a crisis, said Bobby Persinger, Pathways of Central Ohio prevention services director, who went through the training earlier this year.
If someone is having an anxiety attack, for example, someone trained in mental health first aid could help him or her calm down and prevent the attack from worsening, Persinger said.
“You prevent the situation from escalating further out of control,” he said. “You’re doing that as a kind of temporary (fix), until help can arrive, until a squad can come.”
Mental health first aid has been used across the country for years, but the certification for trainers is pricey, about $2,500 per person, said Kay Spergel, MHR executive director for Licking and Knox counties.
Locally, it simply wasn’t a financial possibility until Ohio developed a grant for trainers.
Spergel and Penny Sitler, Mental Health America executive director, went to the training earlier this year, and now they’re training people in the two-county area.
One of the goals of the program is to help decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s an illness — just as if someone had a heart attack, stroke or cancer — but people tend to blame or be afraid of those with mental issues, Spergel said.
The training also can help with early identification. If people know what to look for in mental illness, they might be able to help someone seek treatment earlier, before a problem gets out of hand.
“There are things you can do; you don’t have to be helpless,” Spergel said. “We don’t expect people to resolve other people’s problems for them, but what we do hope is people will help others understand the resources available.”
Professionals estimate roughly 1 in 5 adults suffers from a mental illness in any given year. The incidence rate is so high, yet people sometimes hesitate to ask for help, Persinger said.
“People hide, people withdraw,” he said.
If more people took mental health first aid, though, it would open the door to talking about mental health, its importance and the availability of treatment, Persinger said.
“My hope is that everyone gets trained, regardless of your station in the community, regardless of your job,” he said. “If we’re just out and about and we can intervene in a healthy, productive way, it’s going to eliminate a lot of fear, and that’s a good thing.”
Editor’s note: September is Recovery Month, 30 days dedicated to celebrating individuals fighting to overcome mental- or substance-use disorders. Recovery Month encourages open discussion of mental illnesses. It spreads the message that help is available, treatment works, and people can overcome.
This is one of a series of articles The Advocate is running during Recovery Month, spreading the message and sharing the stories of those who fought — or are fighting —to recover.
By the numbers
In any given year, nearly 20 percent of adults, or 1 in 5, experience some type of mental illness, according to Mental Health First Aid USA. Here’s a breakdown of what some of those illnesses might be. Keep in mind that many people experience more than one type of mental illness at the same time.
• Anxiety disorders, 19.1 percent of adults.
• Major depressive disorder, 6.8 percent.
• Substance use disorders, 8 percent.
• Bipolar disorder, 2.8 percent.
• Eating disorder, 2.1 percent.
• Schizophrenia, 0.45 percent.
• Any mental disorder, 19.6 percent.
If you’re struggling with a mental- and/or substance abuse disorder, call the 2-1-1 crisis hotline for help and treatment options. Dial 2-1-1, 800-544-1601 or, in Licking County only, 740-345-HELP
The 2-1-1 crisis hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This article appeared in the Newark Advocate September 16, 2014