The Joys of Mental Health First Aid

Don’t you love the smiles on these faces? The Sophie Fund does.

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The Class of April 16, 2018

This is a group of owners, managers, and workers from Ithaca’s restaurants, bars, and cafes taking a one-day course in Mental Health First Aid on April 16. They’re smiling because they had great fun, learned valuable skills, and became more confident in their abilities to support a family member, friend, colleague, or stranger experiencing a mental health crisis. Oh, and they also received official certification as Mental Health First Aiders.

The training was conducted by Melanie Little and David Bulkley of the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County. It was sponsored by a grant from The Sophie Fund to offer free training for the dedicated men and women of Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene—where thin margins, long hours, erratic schedules, and high pressures can be the routine. The 15 trainees in the session are employed by Gimme! Coffee, Argos Inn, The Watershed, Temple of Zeus, Manndible Cafe, and other enterprises.

“With the stigma around mental illness, and given the hectic lives we lead today, it’s easy for somebody not to immediately seek the mental health support they need, or for people around them not to recognize signs that a crisis is brewing,” said Scott MacLeod, a founder of The Sophie Fund. “We aim to see Mental Health First Aid become the norm across the public and private sectors in Tompkins County. We would like to see every government agency, educational institution, and major business providing training opportunities—and in some cases, mandated training—for their managers and staff.”

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In training at the Tompkins County Public Library

Developed in Australia in 2000, the National Council for Behavioral Health brought Mental Health First Aid to the United States in 2008. Like traditional first aid, Mental Health First Aid is not about diagnosing or treating ailments, but rather giving immediate initial assistance until professional mental health support can be provided.

In the one-day Mental Health First Aid course, trainees learn the risk factors and warning signs for mental disorders and substance use concerns, strategies for assisting people in crisis and non-crisis situations, and how to get professional help.

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Practicing Mental Health First Aid skills

In the United States, the “movement” boasts a million Mental Health First Aiders—and millions more are needed. The country is going through an epidemic of mental health disorders. The national suicide rate increased 24 percent from 1999 to 2014. In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid overdoses; 2.1 million Americans had an opioid use disorder. An estimated 43.6 million American adults are living with a psychiatric illness and another 16.3 million have an alcohol use disorder.

The 2016 annual report of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health said collected data from 139 college counseling centers showed that 33.2 percent of 150,483 college students seeking counseling in the 2015-16 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide.” That was a marked increase from 23.8 percent in the 2010-11 academic year. About 1,100 college students annually take their own lives.

“As someone who has battled both depression and anxiety personally, and has family members who battle alcoholism, this is a very important topic to me,” said Emily Guenther, one of the April 16 trainees. “It was nice to come to a class where I felt like people understood the difficulties and hardships that are faced daily when dealing with mental health issues. It was wonderful for me to finally get some tools that will be very useful for me moving forward!”

The sentiment was shared by many other trainees.

“The hospitality world often fosters an especially high-stress work environment and, as someone in a managerial position, I am very invested in the mental well-being of my crew, both day-to-day and long-term,” said Rob Hummel, the front desk manager of Argos Inn. “Certainly being concerned for others isn’t enough to be helpful, and the very specific identification and communication techniques presented at training gave me a proper, practical means of applying that concern when it’s needed. The attitude of care and compassion that Melanie and David encouraged as an integral part of mental health first aid is invaluable, both at work and in one’s own life.”

The Mental Health Association employs three certified trainers, and offers regular sessions open to the public and organizes private in-house trainings for companies and organizations.

“At the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, we are passionate about Mental Health First Aid as part of the delivery of our agency’s mission to create a citizen’s movement in support of our community’s mental health,” said trainer Melanie Little. “The further this information spreads, the more our area will be filled with individuals who are ready to provide support, compassion, understanding, and resources to our fellow community members who are struggling.”

Little explained that the training teaches compassion, listening skills, the types of mental health help that are available, and combats the stigma surrounding mental health that prevents so many individuals from accessing the help they need and deserve. In an eight-hour course, she said, the training includes discussions about complex and difficult topics, and gives participants ample time to practice their skills by applying them to a wide range of scenarios.

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Melanie Little and David Bulkley of the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Mental Health First Aid not only serves humanity, it serves the bottom line, too. According to Mental Health First Aid USA, 40 percent of employees with a mental illness take up to 10 days off work a year because of it. Yet 35 percent of managers feel they have no formal support or resources to help their employees.

And, it’s kind of cool, or at least Lady Gaga thinks so: her Born This Way Foundation has helped train 150,000 people in Mental Health First Aid.

For more information or to schedule a training in Tompkins County, contact:

Melanie Little, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

mlittle@mhaedu.org

For information about applying for a Mental Health First Aid training grant from The Sophie Fund, contact:

The Sophie Fund

thesophiefund2016@gmail.org

To support The Sophie Fund’s grants for Mental Health First Aid training, click here to go to the Donate page.

 

Photos courtesy Yuko Jingu

“Keying into Emotions”

“I can share it with my family.” — Amelia Erikson on how baking cupcakes brings her happiness and helps her open up about her mental illness.

Michayla Savitt hangs out with Amelia Erikson, a 2016 psychology and neuroscience graduate of Ithaca College with bipolar II disorder, in Episode 8 of The Scoop on Mental Health. In “Keying into Emotions,” Amelia shares stories about the evolution of her mental illness starting in childhood, and how she devised personal ways of coping without medication—including the happiness she feels when baking cupcakes. “The other great thing about that is I can share it with my family,” she explains. “If I’m in a little bit of a happier mood while baking, it’s a really good time to be talking to them and sort of explaining how I have been feeling.”

8pod“Keying into Emotions” [Episode 8] Listen

Amelia Erikson shares stories of her bipolar II disorder and how she copes with the symptoms without the aid of medications.

Guns, Children, and Trump

Nothing better illustrates America’s abysmal failure to address the persistent public health crisis of mass shootings than the empty proposals put forth by the nation’s president in the aftermath of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day.

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President Trump meeting with students, parents, and teachers at the White House

Arm our teachers, President Trump tweeted. Put an end to “gun free” schools and make them “hardened targets” instead. Arming teachers has been an idea pushed by the National Rifle Association, which donated $11 million to Trump’s 2016 campaign, since the killing of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

Responding to the Florida shooting, in which a 19-year-old former student killed 17 children and adults with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Trump repeatedly blamed “sicko” and “maniac” individuals for school shootings. He said he supported implementing comprehensive background checks “with an emphasis on mental health”; raising the gun-purchasing age to 21; ending sales of “bump stocks” that enable automatic fire; and arming “weapons talented teachers.”

Trump tweeted on February 22: “If a potential ‘sicko shooter’ knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won’t go there…problem solved.” In another tweet, Trump said: “A ‘gun free’ school is a magnet for bad people.” He proposed that armed teachers be given a pay bonus for their additional service.

Trump’s proposal to arm teachers—along with his accompanying insinuation that mental illness rather than lax gun control is the prime cause of school shootings—triggered an outcry from leading educational groups and medical associations. A summary of statements reacting to the Parkland shootings and Trump’s comments:

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García:

“Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence. Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms. Parents and educators overwhelmingly reject the idea of arming school staff.

“Educators need to be focused on teaching our students. We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.

“We owe it to the students and school personnel, who’ve lost their lives at schools and on campuses across the country, to work together so that we can thoughtfully and carefully develop common sense solutions that really will save lives.”

 

AASA (The School Superintendents Association) Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech:

“Subsequent to the Sandy Hook shooting, the AASA Governing Board in July 2013 adopted a Position Paper on School Safety that says: ‘If we hope to prevent future tragedies at schools, we must comprehensively address both school safety and gun safety. Increased mental health services, community supports for youth, and new attitudes about violence in our entertainment must all be part of this approach. We must be willing to spend the time and resources necessary to make sustainable changes. AASA hopes that school leaders find ways of enhancing their current school safety procedures as outlined above, but we know federal funding is critical to ensuring schools remain the safest place for children to be.’

 

The National Association of School Psychologists:

“The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) strongly opposes arming teachers as a strategy for preventing gun violence on school grounds. NASP joins virtually every other organization representing school and safety professionals in recognizing that arming school staff is wrong. Doing so places an unrealistic, unreasonable burden on America’s educators, has the potential to cause more harm from unintentional or inaccurate discharge of firearms, and can undermine the sense of safe, supportive learning environments.

“Equally important, the time and costs associated with training and arming school staff diverts critical human and financial resources away from strategies known to help decrease violent behaviors such as improved access to mental health services, effective threat assessment practices, properly trained school crisis response teams, and creating welcoming, inclusive school communities for all students.

“We need laws and policies that keep guns out of the hands of those who would hurt themselves or others and limit access to weapons intended to cause mass destruction in a short amount of time.

“Our nation must focus on the approaches that genuinely safeguard the well-being of our children and the school staff who work to educate, empower, and protect them every day. Putting more guns in schools is not one of those approaches.”

 

The National Association of School Resource Officers Executive Director Mo Canady:

“NASRO strongly recommends that no firearms be on a school campus except those carried by carefully selected, specially trained school resource officers (SROs), who are career law enforcement officers with sworn authority, deployed by employing police departments or agencies in community-oriented policing assignments to work in collaboration with schools.

“There are several reasons for this recommendation:

—Law enforcement officers who respond to an incident at a school could mistake for an assailant a teacher or any other armed person who is not in a uniform.

—Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant.

—Firearm skills degrade quickly, which is why most law enforcement agencies require their officers to practice on a shooting range frequently (as often as once per month), under simulated, high-stress conditions. Anyone without such frequent, ongoing practice will likely have difficulty using a firearm safely and effectively.

—In addition to maintaining marksmanship, ongoing firearms practice helps law enforcement officers overcome the physiological response to stress than can reduce the fine motor skills required to accurately fire a weapon.

—Anyone who possesses a firearm on campus must be able to keep it both ready for use and absolutely secure. Law enforcement officers receive training that enables them to overcome attempts to access their weapons.

—Discharging a firearm in a crowded school is an extremely risky action, with consequences that can include the wounding and/or death of innocent victims. Law enforcement officers receive training and practice in evaluating quickly the risks of firing. They hold their fire when the risks to others are too high.”

 

Joint statement by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association:

“This senseless loss of life has become all too common in our country, ending lives, shattering families and disrupting the fabric of another community forever branded by this act of violence.

“Gun violence is a public health epidemic that is growing in frequency and lethality, and it is taking a toll on our patients. We urge our national leaders to recognize in this moment what the medical community has long understood: we must treat this epidemic no differently than we would any other pervasive threat to public health. We must identify the causes and take evidence-based approaches to prevent future suffering.

“Today, our organizations call on the President and the United States Congress to help prevent gun violence in the following ways:

—Label this violence caused by the use of guns a national public health epidemic.

—Fund appropriate research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the FY 2018 omnibus spending package.

—Establish constitutionally appropriate restrictions on the manufacturing and sale, for civilian use, of large-capacity magazines and firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity.”

 

American Psychological Association President Jessica Henderson Daniel:

“While law enforcement is still piecing together the shooter’s motives, some public figures and news reports are focusing on his mental health. It is important to remember that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness. More important, it does not direct us to appropriate solutions to this public health crisis.”

“Changing the Tape”

“That’s got me through the hardest moments.” — Mental health advocate Dayna Altman on how helping others has helped her deal with her own mental disorders.

In Episode 7 of The Scoop on Mental Health, Michayla travels to Boston to meet Dayna Altman, who’s pursuing a career in public health inspired by the people who helped her through her own mental health challenges. In “Changing the Tape,” Dayna talks about both losing and gaining control with a mental illness, and the multiple advocacy projects that have come out of her experiences. As she tells Michayla: “Planning, helping other people, it’s what drives me, it’s what I love, it’s what I want to do the rest of my life. I think that’s got me through the hardest moments.”

“Changing the Tape” [Episode 7] Listen

Dayna Altman speaks about coping with her mental illness by telling her story openly and encouraging others to tell their truths as well.

“Nobody Talks About This”

“I need to talk about it so other people can talk about it.” — Padriac Lillis on writing and performing in a play about suicide.

Episode 6

Episode 6 of Michayla Savitt’s The Scoop on Mental Health features Brooklyn-based artistic director Padriac Lillis, who discusses Hope You Get To Eleven, his play inspired by a former student’s suicide and his own struggle with depression. In “Nobody Talks About This,” Padriac explores the emotional process of bringing the difficult subject matter to the stage. “I have a story to tell, not because it’s my story, because I need to talk about it so other people can talk about it,” he says.

6pod“Nobody Talks About This”  [Episode 6] Listen

Padriac Lillis wrote and performed a play about his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, prompting conversations about mental illness from audience members and people in his life.