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Did You Know There’s First Aid…for Mental Health?

By Anissa L. Moody, Ph.D

“I’m trying  to help her… I’m trying to keep them safe.” Those were the words of the beleaguered sister of Ebony Wilkerson, captured on a 911 recording, just two hours before Ebony drove herself and three children into the Atlantic Ocean. These types of cases activate our impulse to blame and assign responsibility. There is a place for that conversation, but it does little to arm you with the skills or awareness to address real-life problems. What many of these cases DO offer is an opportunity to learn how our individual actions can help the Ebonys of the world.

Certainly, mental health symptoms can be quite difficult to assess and communicate. How do you know if someone is really hearing voices or if they’re just deep in their faith? There are no home test kits that can calculate, describe or predict symptoms. What you can do is trust your instincts and knowledge about your loved one and learn basic information like Mental Health First Aid.

As defined by Mental Health First Aid USA, “Mental Health First Aid is an in-person training designed for anyone to learn about mental illnesses, including risk factors and warning signs. Similar to CPR, participants learn a 5-step action plan to help people who are in emotional crisis.” In addition to increasing your knowledge, evaluating your own willingness to deal with mental illness is necessary. Too often, those in need of mental health services do not receive help until it’s too late due to family members’ reluctance to deal with the situation. Many atrocities can be attributed to long-term emotional wear and tear without adequate coping skills or support.

We need to change our thoughts about talking to our loved ones about mental health and learn how to effectively respond. A first step would be to apply “KAS”:

• Increase your Knowledge about general mental health. There are many organizations, like NAMI, dedicated to providing resources and information. Also, consider learning about your personal mental health history, including your family history.

• Increase your Awareness about mental health stigma. What’s your attitude about mental illness? Are you open to discussing these matters with others?

• Increase your Skills by taking Mental Health First Aid training or other courses that focus on teaching specific ways to identify and respond.

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