Mental health battles in our communities are not rare. 

Most of us know someone who struggles with their mental health. While people work to cope with mental illnesses in a variety of ways, a first aid class has been created to teach the skills needed to respond to signs of mental illness, working to Take the Moment, guiding a loved one out of a dark place. 

The classes are even available in the Mahoning Valley. 

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 130 people die by suicide every day. The National Institute of Mental Health states nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. lives with a mental illness.

That’s why the Mental Health First Aid course could be a useful tool for identifying mental illness in others. The international program has trained over 2 million people since 2000 on how to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

"Just like there is first aid classes for someone having a physical illness or physical crisis, these first aid classes are to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness. So, you know how to appropriately respond to someone who is in a crisis situation,” said Maureen Waybright, Recovery Coordinator with the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Board. 

“You're like a first responder to help that person until they can get to professional help,” explained Valerie Burney, Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator with Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

The class is available around town– and teaches participants risk factors and warning signs of mental health struggles while also building an understanding of their impact and how to properly support loved ones.

“Somebody could be experiencing situations of psychosis, hearing voices or going through a very depressing time in their life,” Waybright explained. “It doesn't necessarily have to be a crisis.”

The course originated in Australia and is centered around the ALGEE action plan:

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

“So, there's actually steps that you go through when offering assistance to somebody in a mental health crisis. There’s such a stigma and unless it directly affects you family, you’re not well educated,” Waybright added. “Mental Health First Aid breaks down categories by illness, including substance use disorders and do you  know what signs and symptoms to look for so that you can offer assistance to someone before they get into that crisis situation.”

“It's very eye opening and it helps you just understand this person is experiencing a mental health challenge,” Burney added. ‘How do I help them? How do I support them when they're in a crisis in that moment?’ You have to know the resources.”

Pastor Greg Aker with Upper Room Fellowship recently took the course and told 21 News he found he training to be invaluable in his ministry. 

Each of us are very complex, encompassing body, soul (mind, emotion, and will), and spirit, all of which may require healing,” Aker said. “There are mental health issues within our congregation, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictions. It is important for the Church to be a safe place for individuals to seek help and support. There were practical benefits of the Mental Health First Aid training, including understanding mental health problems, providing empathetic listening, offering aid, and making referrals when necessary. There is also the ongoing usefulness of the Mental Health First Aid USA manual as a resource for my pastoral work.”

The course takes about 8 hours to complete, which can be broken down into several courses. Participants receive a certificate upon the completion of a final quiz that is valid for 3 years after certification. 

“Each participants gets a manual that is theirs to keep,” Waybright added. “In that manual, it breaks down the diagnosis, what the symptoms are, what to look for and how to get help for them, in order to keep things from getting worse.”

A free in-person workshop will be hosted by the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Board at it’s office located at 27 Vista Drive in Lisbon on Friday, May 17 from 8 until 4 pm. 

Call 330-424-0195 or email [email protected] to register.