Classes offered through state funding aim to teach Missourians how to step in and prevent mental health crises.
During the ongoing pandemic, you can take free Mental Health First Aid classes in the comfort of your own home, according to MHFA Missouri’s project coordinator. Isaac Sandidge spoke Wednesday to the Fulton Rotary Club about the program during a virtual meeting.
“If you’ve taken a CPR first aid class, remember how during your training they taught you how to do open heart surgery?” he asked. “(You don’t, because) it doesn’t teach you how to do those things. Instead, it teaches you how to provide initial in-the-moment assistance til professionals arrive.”
That’s the idea behind Mental Health First Aid, he said. The program teaches learners how to spot signs of a mental health crisis in friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members, and how to help those people find professional help.
“(MHFA) teaches you to offer immediate help until crisis is over or more appropriate health arrives,” Sandidge said.
These skills are vital and life-saving, he said. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 50 percent of Americans will experience a mental illness of some type during their life. But it takes an average of 10 years for someone with a mental illness to receive help — whether due to a lack of insurance, lack of a diagnosis, dismissal by those around them or another roadblock.
“Anxiety disorders have tendency to present really young in lifetime, usually at about age 11,” Sandidge said. “Think about waiting 10 years from when anxiety disorder presents itself to treatment. A lot of life happens between age 11 and 21.”
Callaway County has a slightly higher rate of deaths related to mental health issues or substance use than the state as a whole, he added. Missouri averages 9.9 of those deaths per 100,000 among women and 21.1 among men. In Callaway County, 11.6 of 100,000 deaths among women are related to mental health issues or substance use and 20 among men.
People ages 11-34 are at particularly high risk, as are older white men.
“Mental health is public health,” Sandidge emphasized.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying existing mental health issues for some and triggering new issues for others, he added.
“We’ve seen an uptick in suicide attempts,” he said. “We’re thinking because it’s challenging, we’re having to isolate from our friends, our neighbors.”
During an MHFA course, participants will learn to recognize risk factors and warning signs of mental health issues and substance use disorders. They’ll also learn information about common — but frequently misunderstood — issues, such as depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis and substance use. They’ll receive a binder’s-worth of mental health-related resources to keep on hand.
Then, they’ll learn a five-step action plan for helping an at-risk individual.
“It’s evidence-based, it works, and it’s easy to implement and remember,” Sandidge said.
The plan is in acronym form: ALGEE, which stands for:
A: Approach, assess for risk of suicide/harm and assist.
L: Listen non-judgmentally.
G: Give reassurance and information, reassuring people they’re not alone.
E: Encourage appropriate professional help.
E: Encourage self-help and other support strategies
“We teach you how to ask those questions and ask if someone is having thoughts of suicide,” Sandidge said. “We teach you what to do if somebody says yes, so you’re not stuck in an ‘oh no’ moment.”
Since the program was implemented in Missouri in 2006, 37,000 people have received MHFA training. Certification is good for three years.
“I went through this training a number of years ago and I highly recommend it,” Rotary Club member Susan Krumm said. “I still refer to the resources that were provided.”
There are two main types of MHFA trainings, both intended for adult learners. One focuses on teaching how to spot and respond to mental health issues in adults, the other one is focused on assisting people ageds 12-18. Due to the current health crisis, classes are currently being offered in a virtual format and in blended virtual/in-person format.
Trainings range from 6-7 hours each and include a maximum of 20-30 people, depending on the class.
To learn more or join a class, visit mhfamissouri.org or contact Sandidge at [email protected] or 314-516-8445.