Free Mental Health First Aid Training Offered

On July 10, the Metropolitan Council of Community Mental Health Centers will host a Mental Health First Aid ‘Day.’ This first-ever opportunity for the Kansas City area will be offered at no cost to the public thanks to funding from the Health Care Foundation and the Jackson County Community Mental Health Fund.

Our aim is to certify more than 250 Kansas Citians in the adult or youth version of the course and increase the ranks of people trained to respond to a mental health crisis. In the process, we hope to add momentum to an already robust conversation about mental health in the region.

Once certified, those 250 participants will join a growing community of “Mental Health First Aiders,” people who have completed an 8-hour course designed to give them the confidence to reach out to people in need. To date, more than 3,000 people in the five-county region have received their certification.

But that’s a small number relative to the 2.3 million people who live in the greater Kansas City area. Too small, especially when you consider that nearly 95,000 people in the region live with an untreated mental illness. Clearly, the need for stronger community support far outstrips our ability to provide that support. Just as clearly: We need more Mental Health First Aiders.

We need them because community support is a critical part of getting someone with a mental illness the help they need. Think about a person living with depression. He may begin to isolate himself, withdraw from friends, stop participating in activities he used to love doing. This isolation may try the patience of family and friends who aren’t familiar with what it’s like to be depressed. They may not know how best to approach him with their concerns.

If no one reaches out to him—if they keep him at arm’s length because they’re afraid to get involved or don’t know how to respond—he may not seek help. The depression may get worse. He could become suicidal.

Mental Health First Aid teaches us how to reach out to people with mental illnesses like depression and guide them to get the help they need—sooner rather than later. It teaches us how to bridge the gulf that’s created when people with mental illness isolate themselves, how to make life a bit more tolerable for those experiencing a serious mental health challenge.

This is, admittedly, easy to say but more difficult to practice. Personal experience has shown me how hard it can be to reach out to someone who is depressed and may resist a well-intentioned gesture of support. I know how challenging it can be to talk to someone in the throes of delusional thinking. Learning more about what it’s like to have depression or schizophrenia, for example, has helped me to better see life through the eyes of someone living with a serious mental illness. It has helped me become a more patient listener, less judgmental and, I hope, more compassionate.

So please consider joining me and the growing number of Kansan Citians who are building that community of support. Mark July 10 on your calendar for Mental Health First Aid Day! Or better yet, send me an email and I’ll get you registered:

Mark Wiebe is Director of Public Affairs at Wyandot Inc., and a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.

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