I heard about Mental Health First Aid from a church member and immediately saw the need. I come in contact with various individuals who are having a mental health crisis, either themselves or in their family. I’ve taken regular first aid, and I’ve used both, but certainly the opportunities to use Mental Health First Aid are much more abundant.
Mental Health First Aid gave me hands-on training in how to have a dialogue with somebody who might be experiencing a crisis. The ALGEE acronym is very effective and something I could use immediately.
I could name four or five individuals in my congregation who are dealing with a mental health need — depression or substance abuse or other challenges. I’m in a counseling relationship with someone who is recovering from substance abuse. I’m also dealing with a family where depression has struck close to home and it’s creating challenges for the individual and also for the family. I’ve been able to help them understand what to say and what not to say thanks to the key concepts I learned in Mental Health First Aid.
Earlier, I harbored stigmas about mental health, or people who were dealing with a mental health crisis. Sometimes we believe that if a person is dealing with such a challenge, there isn’t much hope for them and they must just manage. The training helped me understand that it’s never a hopeless situation. Mental Health First Aid has been very effective in helping me understand those stigmas, address them, and dismiss them.
As Christians, we want to be trained and equipped to do good. I may not be the first one as a pastor who becomes aware of a need among church members. It would be an immense help for my congregants to take the course, because they would be able to understand that if they’re struggling with a mental health challenge, they’re not completely abandoned and without resources. It would help them to be more observant of the possible signs of a problem and it would help them know what they can do to help a friend in need.
Many times, we in ministry will just put our energies toward the spiritual health of our congregants. In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, there’s a real focus and emphasis on treating an individual completely. Our church does have a strong health message and many lay people are involved in a health ministry of some sort. But we’ve traditionally relegated mental health to the professionals because we feel like we’re not trained and have nothing to offer.
Mental Health First Aid helps us feel like “I do have something to offer. I can understand this at my level.” When you have the actual tools and resources for additional help at hand, it makes a world of difference. Mental Health First Aid is a real powerful tool in the hands of church members to enhance their skills and ability to offer a health ministry.
Members of the clergy, we have great stress placed upon us, great expectations. Sometimes the expectations we place upon ourselves are greater than they should be. All of these things can add up to a very stressful experience which, if not managed well, can usher us into an experience of depression. Over the course of my ministry, there have been some low times when I’ve struggled and I’ve felt depressed. Mental Health First Aid training has taught me some methods that I can use to deal with those low points, and also helped me to realize that it’s not something that lasts forever.
I am thankful that such an important program is available. One of the best things about Mental Health First Aid is that it’s so simple and easily learned and put into practice, that anyone can benefit from it.
I’d like to see it widely accepted and embraced among all places of worship. It’s the kind of thing we can continue to offer and expand the opportunities for people to learn so that they can be frontline ministers for those who have mental health needs.
To hear more from Pastor Krause, check out his video interview with Meeke Christian Counseling on Mental Health First Aid.