Mental Health First Aid Program will better equip communities in prevention and crisis response, officials say

By CASEY McDERMOTT

Monitor staff

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
(Published in print: Tuesday, July 8, 2014)

The five-day Mental Health First Aid training program kicked off yesterday in Manchester with a goal of certifying 30 participants as Mental Health First Aid instructors, New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association Executive Director Roland Lamy said.

At the program, participants will learn to recognize signs of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, addiction and other conditions, according to a press release. The workshop uses role-playing and other simulations to show people how to respond when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, according to the release, in addition to connecting participants with in-person or online resources that might be able to help.

While the program has been offered through the Mental Health First Aid headquarters in Washington, D.C., and through other sessions across the country, Lamy said New Hampshire’s is the first statewide training session.

Many of the program’s participants work for community mental health associations, but Lamy said police officers, emergency responders and educators are also being trained. The Concord-area delegation includes a member of a local crisis team, someone who does outreach with the local homeless community and a representative from the National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire, Riverbend Community Mental Health CEO Peter Evers said.

Ideally, Lamy and Evers said, those who attend this week’s training session will be able to pass along what they’ve learned to others in the community – police officers, firefighters, librarians or people who work at local gyms – outside of mental health providers. In doing so, Evers said, communities might be able to “reduce the pressure on crisis situations” and alleviate the strain on the health care or criminal justice systems by helping people who might be experiencing mental health problems before the issues escalate.

Evers said local follow-up sessions might focus on local schools or, perhaps, addressing depression in older adults. He also encouraged those interested in being a part of future training sessions to contact Riverbend.

Evers, Lamy and NAMI New Hampshire Executive Director Ken Norton also emphasized that everyone stands to benefit from more education on mental health issues.

“People take CPR and/or first aid classes every day,” Norton said. “This is essentially the same kind so that they can help a neighbor or friend or relative if they were to have a medical emergency.”

New Hampshire elected officials’ support for this and other mental health outreach efforts has been critical, Lamy said.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster attended the kickoff event in Manchester yesterday morning. In statements, both said programs like Mental Health First Aid play an important role in training people in communities to better help others experiencing mental health issues.

In addition to providing tools to connect people with treatment, the program will also help to educate people about the nuances of mental health and address misconceptions surrounding such issues, Lamy said.

“Mental illness is not age specific, not economically specific – it’s sort of everywhere,” Lamy said. “And I think the more breadth we have and tentacles we have in the community, where people understand the early detection signs, will be vital to our success.”

 (Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)