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Commentary: Training in mental health first aid is now freely available – let’s access it

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one in five Americans experience mental illness each year. InMaine, by one estimate, one in six kids aged between 6 and 17 experiences anxiety and depression. On average, one person in the US completes suicide every 11 minutes. According to the National Mental Health Alliance, 260,862 Mainers live in communities that don’t have enough mental health professionals.

If you or anyone you know is battling depression or has had suicidal thoughts, call the Maine Crisis Line at 1-888-568-1112; text the national crisis text line at 741741, or call 988 to be connected to the state hotline. TheVisualsYouNeed/Shutterstock.com

This September, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, is an opportunity for all of us to take a step back and reflect on how our friends, family and colleagues – and we personally – are handling the stresses of everyday life.

While the pandemic has shapeshifted in intensity and severity over the last few years, the mental scars of such a traumatic time period can still be felt.

The way we work has been changing. People are starting to return to regular social engagement, even if some of us are a little rusty on the small talk. The cost of everything is putting pressure on just about every household. Not to mention news headlines from around the country and around the world that can keep us up at night. There’s been a lot of disruption and change in a relatively short amount of time. It’s a lot to manage and handle by oneself.

Let us use this month for a mental health checkup. Neither anxiety nor depression knows socio-economic bounds. They do not discriminate. While stigma attached with seeking help for mental health challenges appears to be fading, recognizing the signs of mental illness isn’t always easy.

There are a few common signs to look out for: feeling sad or withdrawn for long periods; drastic changes in mood or behavior, or intense worry that prevents regular activities are just a few. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or those around you, it’s important to be understanding, ask questions and connect with mental health professionals.

Luckily, free trainings are available to help us all better support individuals in our lives when mental health challenges arise.

Because of a grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration my organization, Sweetser, provides mental health first aid and psychological first aid trainings, free of charge, across our state.

Mental health first aid is an evidence-based training program administered by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing that teaches us how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges.

Just as performing CPR helps you assist an individual having a heart attack, mental health first aid helps you assist someone experiencing a mental health or substance use-related crisis. The course outlines risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, teaches strategies to help someone in crisis and non-crisis situations and offers information on where to turn for help.

Anyone dealing with young people, veterans, individuals working with veterans, frontline public safety workers like fire and police departments, all should consider undertaking training like this.

Developed by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and the National Center for PTSD, psychological first aid has been used by the American Red Cross, first responders and law enforcement to train staff on how to respond to collective trauma experiences.

Since the start of the pandemic, the mental health needs of our first responders have been ever present. The need to better support individuals in roles that respond to and manage traumatic events is great.

Free mental health training could save a life, even your own.


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