Mental Health First AID: Why It Is Needed in Pennsylvania!

On Thursday and Friday of last week, I attended training at the American Red Cross to become certified in Mental Health First AID.  I received a certificate for my eight hours of class.  I can now spot some warning signs of individuals who are experiencing some obvious signs of mental distress.  Our job is to try to alleviate some of the symptoms that are causing stress and to call 911 if an extended level of anxiety or stress affects a person.  I am more aware of the warning signs now and I will continue to register for similar courses.

Tipper Gore is quoted as saying that the 'Last great stigma of the twentieth century is the stigma of mental illness.'  Many people in distress avoid seeking help or are reluctant to ask family members or friends for assistance.  Some of the causes of these stressors can be a job loss, a death of an immediate family member or friend and the loss of a relationship.  Even apparently healthy, well adjusted people are affected by events that occur in their lives.  One of the instructors mentioned that some people self medicate to deal with changes in their lives.  This could take the forms of drinking excessively, smoking or using recreational drugs.  One of the more positive responses can be to practice deep breathing, exercise or talk to a mental health professional.

One of my goals if I am called on to provide MHFA is to be fully present and listening to an individual in distress.  I must not use preconceived notions to help an individual navigate an emotional emergency.  I must maintain an optimistic attitude while providing comfort and options.  We were asked to repeat A-L-G-E-E a number of times during the course.  Assess for risk of suicide or harm.  Listen nonjudgmentally.  Give reassurance and information.  Encourage appropriate professional help.  Encourage self-help and other support strategies.    I will practice these principles on myself as I prepare for the possibility of assisting someone else.

We learned about the devastating effects of depression on individuals and families.  One of the case studies
was of a woman who fell into a emotional abyss so deep that she stayed in bed for over a year.  If it wasn't for the unconditional love and support of her daughter, I don't know how she would have recovered.  Some of the warning signs include people being in an unusually sad mood, lacking energy, feeling worthless or guilty and having sleeping difficulty.  As I am going through a journey trying to re-establish my professional reputation, I understand all of these emotions.  I am working in my home office to create the order that I use to have before I met some challenges.  I know what it takes to support others because of the challenges I face.

Another challenge I learned about was anxiety and some of its effects on people.  The book states that approximately 19% of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder.  anxiety can result in a pounding heart or chest pain.  It  can also cause shortness of breath, choking and tremors and shaking.  Some people affected by this disorder tend to avoid situations, exhibit compulsive behavior and have some distress in social situations.  Some family factors that can cause this are those who experience difficult childhoods, parental alcohol problems and those who have a family history of anxiety disorders.

I understand now that we can be effective in areas where an individual exhibits obvious signs of emotional distress.  I understand how substance use can also lead individuals to avoid seeking the help that they need.  I like the fact that I should listen nonjudgmentally when a friend or distressed individual might need my help. I also will become more aware of the various websites that individuals can utilize to seek help.   Healthy individuals can participate more fully in their own lives and the life of society.  I am ready to assist wherever I can.

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