Mental health as first aid


JOPLIN, Mo. — A unique skill set is changing how many approach a mental health emergency. It’s designed to help the average person know what to do for someone in crisis, before they can get that person to a mental health professional.

In the next part of our series The Suicide Crisis: Prevention, Information, and Awareness, we learn more about mental health first aid.

Freeman Health Ozark Center’s Community Support Specialist Kevin Walker is teaching a handful of participants about what’s known as mental health first aid.

Kevin Walker, Ozark Center Community Support Specialist, said, “Mental health first aid helps people to become aware and knowledgeable on what to do in a psycological crisis. A mental health crisis.”

It’s a program that began in Australia in the early 2000’s. It’s been especially prominent in the Joplin community since the 2011 tornado.

“A program like this, to help people respond — community members who may have no training in mental health whatsoever.”

David Auernheimer, Class Participant, said, “More recently I came across a young mother, and her boyfriend, and two young children.”

David Auernheimer is a U.S. Forest Service Senior Firefighter and knows how helpful this skillset can be.

David Auernheimer, Class Participant, said, “I just got renewel of my CPR and First Aid, and a lot of people take that and that’s for your body. Why wouldn’t we want to also have first aid for the mind?”

Ozark Center Employee Belinda Kirkland is also participating in the class.

Belina Kirkland, Class Participant, said, “I think it’s all about understanding who the person is, what’s they’re going through and how you can help them.”

“There has been and continues to be a stigma attached to people who have mental health problems or who are experiencing mental health problems,” said Walker.

Walker says that’s one of the goals — to nonjudgementally understand what someone in crisis is going through, then actively use those first aid skills.

“We really want people to think about the use of language, how that impacts somebody who may have a mental health issue.”

“Knowing the signs. Knowing what available treatment is out there,” said Kirkland.

Think of an analogy to CPR.

“Just like the person performing CPR out in the community probably isn’t a doctor, right? They’re performing some life saving procedures until the ambulance can get there, or the emergency responders can get there, and get that person to the hospital for the help that they do need,” said Walker.

Similarly, someone trained in mental health first aid can get a person in crisis the help they need.

“Just knowing that somebody is there that is aware of what’s going on can be extremely calming, as well.”

If you know anyone struggling with their mental health and they need someone to talk to, we urge you to call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-talk. We also have more resources for you on four states home page dot com — just search for our suicide crisis tab.

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National Suicide Prevention Hotline

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Call us at 1-800-273-8255

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