Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 22, 2013

You can learn mental health first aid

TRAVERSE CITY — A Mental Health First Aid workshop this month will offer ideas on how to respond to people who suffer from depression, severe anxiety, or psychotic disorders.

The course is based on the same principles as a standard first aid course, and is designed to arm people with tools they need until professional help can be arranged, said Joanie Blamer, a workshop instructor.

“It’s much like treating a wound until an ambulance arrives,” Blamer said.

Such skills are necessary, since mental health problems affect one in four Americans, she said.

The door is open to anyone in the community, including police officers, who often are called in times of a mental health crisis, said Cynthia Petersen, also a workshop instructor.

“We’d love, love, love to have them come in,” Petersen said.

Petersen said a key component of the workshop is to recognize signs of mental illness, such as a person who has withdrawn from friends or won’t leave his or her home.

“I had an elderly person who attended,” she said. “When he started hearing about the signs and symptoms of depression, he recognized things he had gone through himself.”

The workshop will talk about how to recognize someone who is emotionally troubled, begin a conversation about their emotions, provide initial assistance, and guide the person toward professional help, Petersen said.

“Many times it’s calling a church worker or Goodwill or someone to intercede,” she said.

Blamer said Mental Health First Aid is catching on around the country and helps move increasing numbers of people toward recovery. The program originally was created in Australia in 2001 and is now taught across the world.

“It really helps people understand the shroud of fear and misjudgment facing individuals and families who experience mental illnesses and addiction,” she said.

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