Press Releases: Experienced Voices Portray the Real Needs of Persons with Mental Illness
Mental Health First Aid Trainings Led by People in Recovery
For interviews, contact Meena Dayak, 301-602-8474 or MeenaD@thenationalcouncil.org
Washington DC (March 14, 2011)—A special Mental Health First Aid instructor training program in Decatur, GA, this week will prepare 30 people who have experienced mental illness and addiction disorders to teach Mental Health First Aid to the public across the USA.
Mental Health First Aid teaches people how to help someone who may have a mental illness or is experiencing a mental health crisis. The program uses a five-step action plan to assess a situation, select and implement appropriate interventions and offer help. Participants also learn about the risk factors and warning signs of illnesses such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and addictions. Since the program was introduced in the USA in 2008, more than 15,000 people — including first responders, teachers, leaders of faith communities, and caring citizens — have been trained as Mental Health First Aiders.
“Mental Health First Aiders can offer real support to persons with mental illness instead of being patronizing. As a recovering alcoholic and someone who has survived severe depression, trauma, psychosis, and suicide, I can tell you that what we most want from others is respect and understanding,” says Mark Baker, Director of Advocacy at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. “Mental Health First Aid prevents you from stereotyping persons with mental illness,” he adds.
Baker, along with Frank Shelp, Commissioner of Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, has been committed to disseminating Mental Health First Aid through persons in recovery. The state of Georgia has awarded instructor training scholarships and is also funding 30 Mental Health First Aid public courses to be delivered by the instructors certified in this week’s training. The courses will focus on self-help, peer support and resiliency.
The Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network is charged with delivering many of the state-funded public trainings and plans to offer courses in churches, local Rotary and women’s clubs, and other community settings. “Mental Health First Aid delivered by persons in recovery is a win-win for all,” says Sherry Jenkins Tucker, the network’s Executive Director. “It helps people with mental illness reach out and dispel myths and it helps the community understand that these people are competent to live full lives,” she explains.
“This Mental Health First Aid initiative sends a powerful message that people with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar illness can recover and serve as effective stigma busters,” says Larry Fricks, a national Mental Health First Aid trainer from the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (National Council). “Their roles as instructors challenge old beliefs, the sort of beliefs that were so painful, seeing how mental illness was portrayed in January’s Arizona tragedy.” Fricks own story of recovery from bipolar disorder was featured in the New York Times bestselling book Strong at the Broken Places by Richard M. Cohen.
“As someone in recovery, I’ve lived it so I can talk about my experiences with mental illness and how I got through the tough times,” says Lori Rash, program director at Tennessee Mental Health Consumers’ Association, one of about 30 participants in the instructor training this week. “I see myself as a role model for recovery.”
The Decatur training is based on two national pilot projects last year in Georgia supported by the National Council. Evaluations from the pilots, designed and analyzed by the University of Maryland Center for Mental Health Services Research, found that the trainings delivered by instructors in recovery from mental illness received the highest approval rating by 96 percent of the attendees and helped to reduce stigma.
Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council, says about 15 percent of the current 900 instructors have self-identified as persons in recovery. “Initial feedback from courses taught by instructors who are in recovery has shown a significant impact on participants’ attitudes and beliefs,” she says. “Becoming an instructor gives a person in recovery the opportunity to speak up and emphasize that mental illnesses are real, common, and treatable.”
“Being an instructor will give me the chance to break down barriers with people who think a person with mental illness is always doing weird, crazy things,” says Robyn Priest, executive director of the Alaska Peer Support Consortium and also attending the Decatur training. “And for people struggling with mental illness, I can show them that their lives are not over and encourage them to reach for the sky.”
Mental Health First Aid is the initial help given to a person showing symptoms of mental illness or in a mental health crisis until appropriate professional, peer or family support can be engaged. Mental Health First Aid USA is disseminated by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health. To find a training program in your community or learn how you can certify as an instructor, visit www.MentalHealthFirstAid.org.