Press Releases: Faith Leaders Embrace Mental Health Training
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Washington, DC March 2—Churches, synagogues and other houses of worship are turning to an innovative training program to equip their congregations with the skills to recognize mental illness and respond to mental health emergencies. The program, Mental Health First Aid, helps people assess a mental health crisis, select interventions and provide initial help.
“The faith community has always felt a calling to help people, but has not always had the tools to assist people struggling with conditions like depression,” says Mike Johnson, a certified trainer and special projects director at Union Gospel Mission in Seattle. “Shortly after our first training, we realized that this was a resource the faith community had been missing.”
Marti Vogt, a certified trainer who works in the counseling center at Perimeter Church in Duluth, GA., says Mental Health First Aid gives compassionate people the practical skills to complement their spiritual gifts.
“Many times people of faith respond to someone with mental illness by saying ‘I’m praying about it,’ but now they can do something about it,’’ says Vogt, former chair of the Georgia Suicide Prevention Coalition. “I compare it to seeing a child get hit by a car. You pray, but you also call 911.”
While the program has been offered to a wide spectrum of people in the faith community, some trainers see the training as particularly beneficial to clergy.
“Pastors know how to work with couples to save a marriage or deal with issues of faith, but they usually get very little training about mental health problems,” says Rita McElhany, a certified trainer and mental health promotions coordinator at Missouri Department of Mental Health, which disseminates the program along with the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (National Council) and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“Many clergy have already experienced people coming to them for these kinds of problems,” says Helen Siporin, a certified trainer and president of Mental Health America of the Central Valley in Fresno, CA. “The training helps them recognize the warning signs of mental illness before the congregants even come to them for help.”
Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based program, which uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to assess a mental health crisis, select interventions and provide initial help. The training also addresses the risk factors and warning signs of specific illnesses like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and substance use disorders.
Nationwide, more than 45,000 people have been trained through a network of 1,800 certified instructors since the program was introduced in the U.S. in 2008.
“People may know CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, but the truth is they are more likely to come across someone in an emotional crisis than someone having a heart attack,” says Bryan Gibb, director of public education at National Council. “Mental Health First Aid emphasizes that mental illnesses are real, common and treatable, and that help is available.”
More about Mental Health First Aid.
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.