PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
RANDY AUSTIN of the El Dorado County Health Services Department, Mental Health Division leads a discussion for the Mental Health First-Aid Class at the Placerville Church of the Nazarene. Photo by Susana Carey Wey

RANDY AUSTIN of the El Dorado County Health Services Department, Mental Health Division leads a discussion for the Mental Health First-Aid Class at the Placerville Church of the Nazarene. Photo by Susana Carey Wey

News

Mental Health First-Aid course helps to avert harm and stigma

By March 5, 2012

With some 60 percent of the population suffering from anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, and suicide a leading cause of death, mental health concerns are no longer confined to the stereotypical “crazy” depicted in mass media. It is mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends, acquaintances and co-workers whose lives are affected.

Mental Health First-Aid teaches the skills needed when a mental crisis occurs. Just as CPR and first-aid training helps a lay person to initiate the first steps with a heart attack or physical injury, Mental Health first-aid advocates compassion and sensitivity to distinguish between medical and mental emergencies.

A course suggested for anyone with present or potential ministry with the mentally stressed, the free 12-hour course, open to all, is sponsored by Health Ministries and the Faith Community Nurses of El Dorado County in conjunction with the El County Health Services Department, Mental Health Division..

The next Mental Health First Aid class begins at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. March 6. at Green Valley Community Church, 3500 Missouri Flat Rd., Placerville. The 12-hour course, offered free of charge, will run four consecutive Tuesdays, March 6, 13, 20 and 27. Participants are asked to register at gvcconline.net..

Mental Health First-Aid is taught by Stephanie Carlson, MBA, and Randy Austin, MA, of the El Dorado County Health Services Department, Mental Health Division.

It is a highly interactive course, combining lectures, video presentations and interactive skills practice. Participants learn of potential risk factors and warning signs and a five-step action plan encompassing skills, resources and knowledge to assess the situation, implement appropriate interventions and to help the individual in crisis to connect with appropriate professional care. It also promotes understanding of the prevalence of various mental health disorders in the U.S., encouraging understanding and reducing stigma and discrimination.

While Mental Health First Aid encompasses the skills used in any crisis counseling, Austin said that he too learned a lot during their training for the course. The spectrum of mental health issues include addictions, eating disorders, self-injury, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders as well as other diagnoses.

Carlson said that there is hope, that Mental Health’s motto, “treatment works, people recover” is valid, especially when help is sought in a timely manner. Shame and fear can hinder people from accessing services.

Those who become certified in Mental Health First-Aid are cautioned not to become obsessed with their mission.

“We are first-aiders, not crusaders,” said Carlson. “As first-aiders, we assist and evaluate with compassion. We don’t diagnose, but we can comfort and determine a course of action.”

After the session at Green Valley Church, the course is expected to be held at several other area churches. For further information, call El Dorado County Mental Health at 530-621-6210. If experiencing a crisis, call the Mental Health Crisis Line at 530- 822-3345 or dial 911.

Susana Carey Wey

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