Program teaches mental health ‘first aid’

    Violence committed by people with mental illness is rare–but when it happens, it gets a lot of media attention. After the shootings at Virginia Tech and in Arizona, the big question was “How could this have been avoided?”

    Mental health advocates say more people should know how to help people with mental illnesses, and how to intervene before things get bad.

    Mental Health First Aid USA is a public education program that teaches people how to recognize symptoms of mental illness, and how to de-escalate crisis situations. Program director Brian Gibb says the 12-hour workshops are designed for lay people–family members, clergy, and teachers. He says they are just as important as learning CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.

    “We’re more likely to come across someone having an emotional crisis or suffering from mental illness than someone having a heart-attack or choking in a restaurant,” he said.

    Therapist Ruth Deming, who has experienced a mental health crisis herself, said there are simple things people should know about interacting with someone in crisis.

    “We need to show body language that is compassionate and does not frighten the ill person,” said Deming. “The ill person is usually terrified.”

    Deming said this kind of training is already offered to many police officers, but would be useful for other members of the community

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