Mental health first aid courses offered

Northwest Health Connections of Warren is introducing Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) courses for all professionals, first responders, law enforcement, teachers, coaches, and families.

Northwest Health Connections serves Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, McKean, Potter, and Warren counties.

MHFA is being offered as a 12-hour training certification course broken down into two six-hour sessions. Certifications are good for three years. The program introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds understanding of their impact, and introduces overviews of common treatments.

According to a Northwest Health Connections press release, thorough evaluations in randomized controlled trials and a quantitative study have proved the CPR-like program effective in improving trainees’ knowledge of mental disorders, reducing stigma and increasing the amount of help provided to others.

While students do not become therapists or psychologists from the course, they learn to stabilize a situation so things don’t get worse before professional help arrives.

Where regular first aid teaches BAC (breathing, airway, circulation), MHFA teaches ALGEE, a five-step action plan to assess the situation and implement the appropriate interventions to help a person in crisis. The five steps are assess for risk of suicide or harm, listen nonjudgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help, and encourage self-help and other support strategies.

As instructors get into more detail about specific mental health disorders, including alcohol and drug and eating disorders, they teach participants what signs to look for, what to do and not do.

Joanne Cook, director of Northwest Health Connections, said, “This important educational effort goes a lot further than emergency intervention; it really helps people understand the shroud of fear and misjudgment facing individuals and families who experience mental illnesses and addiction. It will help rid communities of the associated stigma and move more people toward recovery.”

Both Cook and Lisa Brocious are certified instructors for Mental Health First Aid, U.S.A. They will also become certified Youth MHFA following a course in June, and will offer the youth classes locally in July. This public information program introduces participants to the unique risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents, builds understanding of the importance and teaches individuals how to help a youth who is in a crisis or is experiencing a mental health or substance abuse challenge.

Sixteen people in Warren County completed the MHFA course last April, and another course is expected to be offered in Warren in June.

Mental Health First Aid was designed in 2001 in Australia by a husband and wife, Tony Jorm and Betty Kitchener, to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and is now taught in many countries.

There is a cost of $30 per student to cover student manuals, class materials, and snacks for each course. For more information or to participate in a training course, call Lynn Carnahan, training coordinator at Northwest Health Connections, 728-9400.