Yesterday I attended a day-long training to become certified in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). This course teaches you how to support an individual in the midst of a mental health crisis until assistance arrives from an appropriate professional. The training also teaches how, in a less emergent scenario, you can facilitate a conversation with a person who is struggling with a mental health disorder.
I was compelled to become MHFA certified for two reasons. Primarily, I believe it is vital that anyone who works with young adults be prepared to talk to them about their mental health. Too many times I have found myself sitting across from a student who is telling me about their stress or anxiety or depression, and I have had to try and help them without knowing any strategies to make the conversation successful. Secondarily, I have anxiety and seasonal depression. I believe it is important to speak more frequently and openly about mental wellness, to combat the stigma against people who live with mental health disorders and to encourage people to seek appropriate professional treatment.
The training was immensely informative. I learned that mental health disorders compromise an individual's ability to carry out daily activities, to enjoy life, or to have satisfying relationships (which we were told to remember with the schmaltzy but helpful mnemonic of "live, laugh, love"). The course then covered the characteristics of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorders. We practiced a process called ALGEE for assisting and supporting individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. After Assessing their risk for suicide and self harm, the best thing to do is to Listen nonjudgmentally and Give reassurance and information. This means to calmly and genuinely express your concern for their feelings, and to accept and validate their experience. The last steps are to Encourage appropriate professional help and to Encourage self-help and other support strategies. The course provides ample opportunity to review the steps of ALGEE, to observe how it can be tailored to a variety of disorders, and to practice using ALGEE in a variety of scenarios.
Having completed the course, I feel much more prepared to discuss mental health--both disorder and wellness--with students and peers. More specifically, I feel like I now have a framework and a set of best practices that will improve the likelihood that these conversations will be effective in planting a seed of encouragement for someone to seek appropriate professional help in moments of crisis. Just as with CPR, I hope this is a set of skills that I never have to put to use, but I feel much more responsible and prepared having learned to administer Mental Health First Aid.