Training in first aid for mental health comes to Philadelphia

    The city of Philadelphia wants people from different professional backgrounds to understand and respond to mental-health issues. City officials have launched a training initiative called Mental Health First Aid.

    Just as people learn CPR or the Heimlich maneuver to help those in physical distress, this initiative is about responding to mental-health issues, explained Dr. Arthur Evans, the head of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health.

    “Most people know what to do when somebody gets cut. They know to apply pressure to the wound,” said Evans. “But people don’t know what to do if they see a colleague or a family member who is experiencing signs of depression.”

    Participants are not taught to diagnose or treat mental health problems, but they will learn to recognize symptoms, listen to a colleague or friend in need, and to raise an issue when they see it, said Bryan Gibb of Mental Health First Aid.

    “It can be difficult, as anybody knows who has had a conversation with somebody around their drinking, for example, or about the fact that they are depressed,” Gibb said. “People don’t always want to admit that they need help, and there is stigma around mental illness that is different than around physical illness.”

    City officials say they expect 1,500 people to take the 12-hour training course within a year. Anyone can sign up for the training.

    The launch event Thursday for the initiative drew a diverse crowd from different professional backgrounds, including police officers, clergy members, SEPTA and school district employees.

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