Hang around a mental health advocate long enough, and you’re likely to hear the phrase “early intervention.” This is shorthand for the simple concept that the sooner you can treat someone’s mental health issues the better chance that person has of recovery. Just as you want to clean an open wound as soon as possible, you want to treat a mental illness before it ignites a fury of self-reinforcing, and often self-defeating, behaviors.
Mental Health First Aid is one program that Wyandot, Inc. has embraced in recent years as a way to encourage the general public to think about “early intervention.” This is why I’m proud to say that Wyandot played a strong leadership role in the Kansas City area’s first-ever Mental Health First Aid “Day.”
Earlier this year, Wyandot, on behalf of the Metropolitan Council of Community Mental Health Centers, received a grant from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City to organize two events, each designed to teach Mental Health First Aid to more than 250 area residents.
With that grant, and another from the Jackson County Community Mental Health Fund, we were able to hold nine courses last week at six sites throughout the metropolitan area, including four at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center in Kansas City, Missouri, and one at the Kansas City, Kansas, School District’s Central Office. Planning for the second event is under way.
The people who took the class came from all walks, including social service agencies, faith communities, law enforcement agencies, neighborhood organizations and nursing schools. Once they completed the 8-hour course, these participants joined a growing community of “Mental Health First Aiders,” people who have learned about the signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses and, more importantly, how to respond to someone experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis.
We need these people 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.
This post originally appeared in the July 2014 eNewsletter from Wyandot Inc.; it was republished with permission.
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