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Learn About Mental Health First Aid and Be Prepared to Help

July 3, 2013 -- What do you do if you encounter a student who is conversing with someone who is not there, a co-worker having a panic attack or someone threatening to commit suicide? CNM Dean of Students Dr. Rudy Garcia and Jim Johnson, psychology professor in CNM’s School of Communication, Humanities & Social Sciences, have an answer. It’s Mental Health First Aid.
Learn About Mental Health First Aid and Be Prepared to Help

Jul 17, 2015

Garcia, who has dealt with these types of situations first hand, and Johnson, who has studied, taught and practiced psychology for many years, took a 40-hour certification training course in Mental Health First Aid this spring. They are now training CNM faculty and staff in the program’s techniques that just might save someone’s life.

“I’ve seen students who are former vets with post-traumatic disorder, students with schizophrenia who have had to choose between taking their medications and feeding their children, and people having panic attacks,” Garcia said. “We in Student Services have always helped them. Mental Health First Aid gives us one more tool to work with.”

Mental Health First Aid teaches people how to assess a situation, identify signs and symptoms of mental illness, select and implement appropriate interventions, and be capable of  helping a person in crisis. It shows people how to provide initial help until appropriate professional, peer or family support arrives.

Garcia said that Mental Health First Aid courses are somewhat like traditional first aid classes – where people learn how to stop bleeding or help a choking victim. The only difference is that this program focuses on mental health.

All over the country people are recognizing the importance of early identification and intervention for mental illness.

Mental Health First Aid teaches people to implement a five-step action plan, ALGEE, to support someone developing signs and symptoms of mental illness in an emotional crisis. They are:

Assess for risk of suicide or harm

Listen nonjudgmentally

Give reassurance and information

Encourage appropriate professional help

Encourage self-help and other support strategies

The program helps participants recognize the common signs and symptoms of mental illnesses to allow for early detection and intervention.

The level of severity of the mental illness determines the type of help to be called upon. For example, if someone appears to be of immediate danger to himself or others, security or the police (911) may need to be summoned quickly.

Garcia said there are three resources at CNM to call if a person sees someone acting strangely. They are security (224-3001), the mental health counselor (224-3271) and the dean of students (224-4342).

Mental Health First Aid was developed in 2001 by Betty Kirchener, a teacher, counselor and nurse from Australia, and her husband Anthony Jorm. The training has spread to many countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, New Zealand, Cambodia, China and many more.

Garcia and Johnson gave their first Mental Health First Aid class in June, attended by 24 faculty, security, achievement coaches and enrollment services. The participants were in class three days a week from 1-5 p.m. for a total of 12 hours. They were required to take a final exam of 10 questions. All participants had perfect scores. The tests and course evaluations were sent to the National Council for Behavioral Health, which will certify the students.

Garcia said that the workshop paid off for one Montoya Campus instructor immediately.

“She came to the class on Monday,” he said. “On Tuesday a student had an incident in her class. She used her ALGEE training and followed the plan. She told me the next day how she resolved the situation. On Friday the student came back and thanked her.”

Garcia’s goal is to train as many CNM faculty members and staff in Mental Health First Aid as possible. For information about upcoming trainings, contact Julie Fisher in the Employee Training department at phone extension 51697.