Mental Health First Aid would like to congratulate Shannon Bailey on receiving the 2015 Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner’s Award for Distinguished Service Award for exemplary and lasting public health contributions. She is the first person in Minnesota to receive this recognition for mental health promotion and suicide prevention.
I had just finished teaching a Youth Mental Health First Aid class and a law enforcement officer stayed long after the session ended. As he helped me pack up my supplies, he told me about his concerns for his adolescent child. During the course, he realized his child may be exhibiting serious signs and symptoms of mental illness. The course helped confirm his suspicions and helped him recognize the seriousness of the situation.
When you think about the impact of that Mental Health First Aid class on the officer, his family, his child and their future, it can’t help but humble you.
Professionals and community leaders are hungry for practical strategies to increase their knowledge and comfort to assess mental health challenges and implement initial effective interventions to connect people to services and support. As a Mental Health First Aid instructor, I feed that hunger by providing research-based information to increase the comfort, knowledge and skills to community leaders across multiple disciplines.
As a licensed social worker for 30 years, I have established a reputation for providing quality training to local school districts, health systems and municipalities. In 2015, when the Dakota County Public Health Department identified mental health promotion and suicide prevention as a top priority, my director and I saw Mental Health First Aid as an opportunity to bring evidence-based training to our community.
I am a youth instructor, an adult trainer and have completed public safety and military supplements. Each course brought me new insights into the similarities and nuances of our different populations and how this knowledge could inspire the people I taught.
It’s powerful to watch how over an eight-hour course, participants across disciplines share lessons learned and establish both formal and informal relationships built on trust that will continue long after the training is completed. These relationships will pay dividends that will help break down silos and create partnerships that can ensure people in crisis have access to the right kind of help at the right time. To help these relationships thrive, we developed a Dakota County Mental Health First Aid listserv to keep participants connected to each other and share lessons learned along with information about future training, resources and community updates.
Many of the participants have already utilized these new skills—a recent survey showed that everyone who had completed the class used the skills they learned at least once in a work setting. They feel confident they have the basic skills to assess, manage initial interventions and help individuals explore next steps and especially valued the panic attack role play, the hallucination exercise and learning how to ask about intent to self-harm or suicide.
Mental Health First Aid has made a tremendous impact on Dakota County and its influence is growing. To date, we have conducted 14 youth courses and two adult courses with a total reach of 300 people. Next week, I will train all 70 to 80 of the Dakota County Jail deputies—a major step forward in preparing our first responders to respond effectively to people with mental illness and substance use issues.
It is estimated that 60 percent of people experiencing mental health challenges never access care and may face a lifespan reduced by 25 years. Mental Health First Aid saves lives. It strengthens the safety-net for these people by providing communities with trained instructors to teach evidence-based curricula that will better serve people experiencing mental health challenges.