Mental Health First Aid Basics

A couple months ago, I decided to take a month-long workshop offered by the City of Somerville called Mental Health First Aid. This program, begun in Australia in 2001, aims to give ordinary citizens training on how to identify mental health issues, listen and provide some support to sufferers and offer suggestions for professional treatment. At first, I considered the training to be part of my professional training as a public librarian. But as the class continued, I realized that many of the skills I was learning were very appropriate in everyday life - for friends, family and coworkers. We primarily discussed issues with depression, anxiety, trauma and psychosis; issues related to substance abuse; how to raise the possibility of suicide or self-harm; and ways to gently convince someone to get professional help, even if their personal or cultural beliefs prohibit getting mental health help. We kept ALGEE in mind when considering action: A - Assess for risk of suicide or harm. L - Listen non-judgmentally. G - Give reassurance and information. E - Encourage appropriate professional help. E - Encourage self-help and other support strategies. Through role play and group assessment of various scenarios, our class learned the best way to broach these subjects - from everyone to our closest friends and family to strangers on the street. It was very enlightening, and I’m very glad I attended. If you’d like to participate, instructor Patty Contente will be holding a new round of classes March 19, March 26, April 2 and April 9, 2015, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., location TBD. You can email her at for more information. There is a suggested, tax deductible donation of $40 to take these classes. Here are some organizations that can help: Somerville Trauma Response Network or call 857-221-0942 National Alliance on Mental Illness - Massachusetts Families for Depression Awareness Somerville Teen Connection at SHS: 617-575-5690 Guidance Center Referral Line: 617-354-2275 Mass. Substance Use Helpline: 800-327-5050 Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255) or en español at 888-628-9454 And remember, having mental health issues is nothing to be ashamed of. (That was one of the first things that Patty accentuated during our classes. A mental health problem is just like any other physical health issues - like MS or heart disease - and it can be treated!) One in five U.S. adults will struggle with a mental disorder in any one year. Take care and be well!

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