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Voices of Mental Health First Aid: Why I Teach Mental Health First Aid

Brandon was an outgoing, fun-loving and enjoyable co-worker whose life ended abruptly after a night of heavy drinkingHis death had a profound impact on our staff as we learned he had been living with a mental health challenge and substance use that had gone unrecognized 

We serve within a total confinement facility that provides behavioral health services to individuals living with severe mental illness, substance use disorders and extensive justiceinvolved backgrounds. Many on staff struggled to make sense of how it was that a facility committed to providing therapeutic treatment for mental health and substance use challenges failed to recognize and respond when the same were experienced by a staff member. 

We brought Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to our facility with the primary goal of helping staff better care for one another and our clients. It has raised the mental health literacy of our non-clinical staff, reducing stigma and giving them permission to seek help and to engage a more empathetic and empowered approach with our clients. Overall, it helped the facility to shift toward a culture of holistic wellness for staff and clients. In fact, MHFA is now part of our employee onboarding process. 

In 2017, my employer asked me to become a MHFA Instructor through a grant program that was funding selected individuals for Instructor training. The agreement was that you would provide a given number of trainings in the community in exchange for the scholarship. Im so thankful for that opportunity! I brought MHFA back to my agency while fulfilling my commitment to provide trainings in our community. I saw the difference that MHFA was making and wanted to be a part of it. I began instructing beyond my initial agreement with the grantor. 

My work is fueled by my professional background serving individuals living with mental health challenges, substance use challenges and justice-involved backgroundsBeing a parent to young adultliving with mental health challenges sparks further inspirationI’m passionate about reducing stigma, raising mental health literacy and creating communities of recovery and hopeI accomplish these objectives by advancing Mental Health First Aid. The more I instruct, the more passionate I become about MHFA. It has given me the opportunity to redeem my lived experience, reduce stigma, raise mental health literacy and create communities of recovery and hope! 

Trained Mental Health First Aiders are helping people and making communities safer. For example, a security officer recently shared that they applied the skills acquired through MHFA to assist an irate citizen on our state’s capitol campus. Another time, a training host reached out to me regarding several almostimmediate results of the MHFA course they had offered: 

  1. An attendee was able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a substance use challenge in one of their relationships. The newly trained First Aider helped that person and encouraged them to seek professional help. 
  2. One First Aider encountered two teens talking about suicide. They used the MHFA Action Plan (ALGEE) to assess the teens’ suicidal thoughts and risks while navigating them toward the help that was needed.  
  3. The evening after a MHFA course, another First Aider learned that a family member had attempted suicideThe first aider took out their MHFA course manual and entered into a conversation using the MHFA Action PlanWithout this new knowledge and proven Action Plan they would not have known how to respond to this crisis. 

For every story I hear, there are many moreAcross our national landscape we take great encouragement from knowing that our collective efforts through Mental Health First Aid are making a differenceTogether we are reducing stigma, raising mental health literacy and creating communities of recovery and hope!