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Mental Health First Aid - Be the Difference Someone May Need

Meredith Miller | Published: June 14, 2018

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About 1 out of every 25 adults experiences some form of serious mental illness every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This rate increases to 1 out of every 5 young people between 13 and 18. Among the 20 million adults who have a substance abuse disorder, including alcohol abuse, about half also have a mental illness. Mental illness touches everyone’s lives in some way or another.

In 2015, Congress passed the Mental Health First Aid Act, authorizing $20 million in funding to help everyone from parents and teachers to first responders and veterans identify, understand, and help people suffering from substance abuse or mental illness. This came after legislation in the 1990s – and expanded in 2008 – to ban limits and overcharging for mental health insurance benefits. Learning about mental health first aid and taking a mental health first aid course can help you be the difference someone else needs when they are facing a crisis.

The Importance of Mental Health First Aid

About 20% of Americans has a mental illness. Many are frightened or reluctant to get help or may not know how. There is a great stigma surrounding mental illness in the United States, despite being a common problem out of its victim’s control. Even worse, symptoms of mental illness can be hard to detect and may come on slowly or without warning. Even when family members and friends suspect something is wrong, they may not know how to help. This means people in need of help often receive it too late.

Mental health first aid is a training course that teaches you how to recognize and respond to symptoms of substance abuse and mental illness in family members, friends, and others. The nationwide goal is to make adult and youth mental health first aid as common as CPR.

What Does Mental Health First Aid Teach?

A mental health first aid course teaches you to help someone who is experiencing some type of crisis related to mental health or substance abuse. These courses explore risk factors for addiction and mental health, where to get help, and how to help someone in different situations. These courses focus on how to listen to someone without judgment, offer information and reassurance, and encourage them to seek appropriate help.

There are many types of courses offered today, including programs designed for first responders and youth mental health first aid classes.

Youth Mental Health First Aid

Many forms of mental illness – including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and some anxiety disorders – first develop in the teenage years. Despite 20-25% of young adults meeting the criteria for a mental disorder that will last a lifetime, many have poor access to care and go undiagnosed. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be hard to tell if troubling behavioral problems are a part of growing up or the beginning of a mental disorder. Teenagers struggling with a mental health crisis are more likely to engage in risky behavior; smoke, drink or use drugs; avoid friends, and have trouble in school.

Youth mental health first aid classes are designed to help family members, parents, caregivers, teachers, and other school staff how to recognize signs of mental health problems or substance abuse in teenagers. These courses usually cover important topics like depression, anxiety, disruptive behavior disorders like ADHD, eating disorders, substance abuse, and disorders that can cause psychosis like schizophrenia.

Who Should Take a Mental Health First Aid Course?

Everyone can benefit from taking a mental health first aid course, from police officers, paramedics, and faith leaders to teachers, mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends. Learning more about mental health can help reduce the stigma associated with behavioral health problems, recognize signs of trouble, and help people get the assistance they need.

The growing focus on mental health first aid has helped first responders provide better care. Many departments report a growing number of calls from people experiencing some form of mental health or substance abuse crisis. With training, someone who would otherwise be viewed as non-compliant and making a conscious decision to refuse direction may be recognized as someone who is experiencing psychosis.

Teachers, parents, caregivers, neighbors, and friends who learn about mental health and substance abuse can better understand when a young person is developing an acute or lifelong mental health problem and offer support and guidance to seek help.

By signing up for a mental health first aid class, you can put yourself in a better place to recognize and help someone who needs it, whether it’s your child, classmate, neighborhood, or sibling. These courses are offered across the country for free or at a low cost.