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How I’m Using MHFA to Help My Community During COVID-19

On March 10, I stood in a classroom teaching Mental Health First Aid. I was three hours away from the closest confirmed COVID-19 case. Nothing had been cancelled, life in my small rural county hadn’t been altered in any way, and people didn’t seem scared. We live in a very remote area, tucked in the middle of giant, protective mountains; locals often talk about how we are safely tucked away from the worries of the world. Just a few days later, our local schools were cancelled, and our governor ordered that we must all PAUSE. The truth hit when my husband went to work, his job being considered essential. Moments later he came back through the door; he had received an email before getting into his car and he’s now working from home.

That was the moment in our home that we started having “real” conversations about COVID-19. What will it mean to physically distance ourselves? Our house is widely known as the central hub of activity. What now? Should I go to the store and stock up on supplies for a few weeks? Suddenly, I am worried about my dad. He would be considered high risk if he gets this virus. In what seemed like a millisecond, COVID-19 wasn’t a distant, obscure thought but was now encroaching on and effecting every moment and aspect of our lives.

Five years ago, I was certified as an Instructor in Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid, with notations for rural areas and first responders. I start every training by telling participants that I use the skills from this training weekly in my life, because that’s the truth — even more so now.

A few years ago, I invited my pastor to attend a MHFA course I was teaching. He along with three other church leaders were certified as First Aiders. Knowing the value of the course content, they have strongly encouraged me to utilize MHFA training along with my Pastoral Ministries degree and my work experience in the mental health field to support our church when needed. Over the years we have teamed together to discuss how to approach depression, anxiety, grief, suicidal ideations, and trauma within the church walls using our faith as the foundation and Mental Health First Aid as a support tool.

Within days of being placed in PAUSE, our church leadership was discussing how we could use our church’s technology to reach our community during this time. No longer able to meet as a full congregation, we arranged to livestream a shorter, more compact version of our Sunday worship service, adhering to the new guidelines. Additionally, we decided to produce a weekly Facebook livestream, “NCC LIVE.” The new programming would consist of a 15-minute broadcast with the primary purpose of giving information, hope and encouragement to our local community while facing the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we talked about what topics should be covered in the new broadcast, I mentioned phone conversations and FaceTime chats I had over the last few days, and how they all center around parents trying to navigate this stressful, anxiety producing time with their children. I talked with the leadership about my own son, who had approached me at the fridge with his big, beautiful hazel eyes and asked if he could drink lots of water before we ran out. This was a sign that his precious, four-year-old brain had heard and processed the conversations about the grocery stores being empty. Almost immediately, we decided that our first broadcast would use the information provided by Mental Health First Aid to springboard a discussion on children and anxiety.

We recorded the first video using Mental Health First Aid within a faith-based framework. We talked about how kids show anxiety differently than adults, discussed signs and symptoms, gave reassurance that kids are resilient and then provided ideas on how to build that resiliency during this time. As of today, that video has been viewed 1,900  times. For our small community and a little local church, that’s a big deal. Our second broadcast utilized MHFA to talk about adults and stress. This time we discussed signs and symptoms of anxiety in adults and provided information from a faith-based perspective on how to encourage peace and hope in our lives during this unprecedented time.

A Bible verse that continues to resonate with me during all of this is 2 Corinthians 1:14, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.One of my favorite aspects of Mental Health First Aid is that it has always left a space to use the material in a faith-based manner; even offering videos in the training that target a faith-based audience. We are all figuring this pandemic out together, one day, and sometimes one moment, at a time. The weekly livestream is a place where we’ve chosen to take the comfort we’ve received in one moment and pass it on to someone else for their moments of need. This is the space we are using to be the difference.

Learn about more ways you can #BeTheDifference during COVID-19.

Ashley has a Pastor Ministry/Bible degree with a minor in Theology from Nyack College. Ashley is married and a homeschooling mom of four beautiful children.