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Mental Health Emergencies Happen. Learn How to Help.

Millions of people every year take a CPR or first aid class to learn how to recognize and care for a variety of medical emergencies. But what about someone experiencing a mental health emergency?

That’s where Mental Health First Aid comes in, educating our community on how to reach out and help those around us who may be struggling with suicide, mental illness or substance abuse.

Mental Health First Aid is a free, eight-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of addictions and mental illness – in the beginning stages all the way through crisis.

As part of a national effort, Carolinas HealthCare System has been offering Mental Health First Aid courses for almost three years and in that time has trained more than 10,000 people.

Lynn Hennighausen, a Mental Health First Aid lead Instructor at Carolinas HealthCare System, is extremely proud of this milestone.

“One of the reasons 60 percent of people don’t get help when they have mental illness is stigma. Each conversation chips away at the stigma surrounding mental illness,” Hennighausen says. “This 10,000 represents 10,000 new conversations about mental health, which will spark more conversations and more people willing to step up to help.”

Sarah Moore, a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and employee at Carolinas HealthCare System, believes she has saved not one but two lives, including a close friend, thanks to the skills she learned.

“Every time we spoke, I encouraged my friend to make a doctor’s appointment, while letting her know I was there for her in a compassionate way,” says Moore. “We don’t always realize what holds people back and prevents them from getting help, but many times it is fear. As a Mental Health First Aid instructor, I can now decrease a person’s fear by listening nonjudgmentally or by sharing resources, if someone doesn’t know who to call. And guess what? My friend made an appointment and now takes medication for her anxiety.”

“After the class people report feeling more willing to ask, ‘Are you okay? Is there some way I can help you?’” Hennighausen says. “Now more than 10,000 people feel more confident, more empowered and many feel more empathy toward folks who are dealing with mental illness.”

Carolinas HealthCare System offers free Mental Health First Aid trainings to individuals and groups across the community. Sign up for a course.

Wondering How You Can Help Someone in Need?

Mental Health First Aid follows a five-step action plan called ALGEE to help those who may be dealing with suicide, mental illness or substance use disorders. Here are the steps:

  1. Assess for risk of suicide or harm

Some warning signs include: threatening to hurt or kill oneself, seeking access to means to hurt or kill oneself, talking or writing about death and feeling hopeless.

  1. Listen nonjudgmentally

Mental Health First Aid teaches you to use verbal and nonverbal skills such as open body posture, comfortable eye contact and other strategies to take part in appropriate conversation.

  1. Give reassurance and information

Mental Health First Aid provides information and resources you can offer to someone to offer emotional support and practical help.

  1. Encourage appropriate professional help

Types of professionals include: primary care physicians, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and certified peer specialists. Types of professional help include: talk therapies, medication and other professional supports.

  1. Encourage self-help and other support strategies

People with mental illness can support their own recovery and wellness through: exercise, relaxation, meditation, participating in peer support groups and self-help books.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental illness or substance use disorder, call the Behavioral Health Help Line at 704-444-2400 or 800-418-2065 for 24/7 crisis assistance or text CONNECT to 741741.

Carolinas HealthCare System has trained 10,000 people in Mental Health First Aid, is one of the leading healthcare organizations in the Southeast and one of the most comprehensive, not-for-profit systems in the country. 

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