Classes teach ‘first aid’ for mental health crisis
“Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
“Have you made a plan?”
“Have you thought about how you would do it?”
Esther Amagoh had just finished asking a classmate several questions like those when she raised a hand to ask one of her own: “If they answer yes to all of the questions, what do we do next?”
Most mental health problems are “low-intensity” events that don’t require an emergency response, says Bryan Gibb of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. But a person making plans for suicide needs immediate help. Some possible warning signs:
• Threatening to injure or kill oneself.
• Seeking access to means to injure or kill oneself.
• Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.
• Feeling hopeless.
• Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities.
• Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
• Withdrawing from friends, family or society.
• Appearing agitated or angry.
• Having a dramatic change in mood.
Amagoh, 24, was in the right place to find out: She was among 22 physical therapy doctoral students at Howard University in Washington, D.C., who devoted a recent afternoon to an abbreviated version of a course that prepares people to respond to others in a mental health crisis.
It’s called mental health first aid. And while the classes are not yet nearly as common as traditional first aid courses — the kind you take to learn how to help a choking victim or cardiac arrest victim — they are catching on.
Since 2008, 50,000 people in 47 states have taken the course, and 1,850 have been trained as instructors, says Bryan Gibb, director of public education at the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, based in Washington. The non-profit runs the effort, using a curriculum developed and tested in Australia. Anyone can take the 12-hour classes, which are sometimes offered in workplaces.