Monday, March 19 , 2018, 10:02 am | Fair 52º


‘Mental Health First Aid’ Helps Community Identify, Assist in Times of Crisis

Mental Health Association staff are certifying residents on how to respond in a variety of situations

We’ve all heard of CPR and first aid to address physical distress, but what happens when someone is exhibiting signs of emotional or mental distress?

The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara is providing the community with a groundbreaking public education program — Mental Health First Aid — that helps the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. Mental Health First Aid is an interactive 12-hour course funded by the Mental Health Service Act that teaches participants about the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems and provides an overview of common treatment options.

Successful participants of the program are certified as Mental Health First Aiders and learn a five-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer, social and self-help care.

“Mental Health First Aid gives certified individuals in our community the tools to make a potentially life-saving difference for a person in crisis,” said Annmarie Cameron, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara. “Not only does this program save lives, but published research studies indicate this program improves the mental health of those in the program itself by expanding the public’s knowledge of mental illness.”

Selected staff of the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara are certified trainers in mental health first aid. They will then train others in the community.

The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara is in the process of certifying local community members in the business, nonprofit and public sectors of Santa Barbara in Mental Health First Aid. These certified Mental Health First Aiders are then ready to assist those in need in the community.

Mental Health First Aid trainees are taught how to respond appropriately to mental health problems in a variety of situations, such as helping someone through a panic attack, engaging with someone who may be suicidal, or assisting an individual who has overdosed. An important component of the Mental Health First Aid training is the opportunity to practice the intervention strategy rather than to just learn about it. This simple experience can make it easier to actually apply the knowledge in a real-life situation. Just as CPR training helps a layperson with no clinical training assist an individual following a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid training helps a layperson assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis until appropriate professional help arrives.

Several published studies indicate the program’s success at saving lives, improving the mental health of the individual administering care and the one receiving it, expanding knowledge of mental illnesses and their treatments, increasing the services provided and reducing the overall stigma by improving mental health literacy. The studies also found that Mental Health First Aid improved the mental health of the participants themselves.

“At the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara, we strive to meet the needs of adults and families in the community who are affected by mental illness when and wherever necessary,” Cameron said. “Mental Health First Aid is just another way to expand mental health outreach into the community.” 

The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County is a private, nonprofit organization providing support, housing and advocacy to adults and families affected by severe mental illness. For more information, click here or call 805.884.8440.

— Kelly Kapaun is a publicist.

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