Mental Health First Aid workshop provides insights and skills

By Charlene Bearden
TUPELO – Do you know how to identify when someone is struggling with a mental health problem? Where would you send someone for help?
Participants learned just that at the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) workshops held on Aug. 22 and 23, a collaboration by the Diocese of Jackson’s Office of Family Ministry and Catholic Charities Office of Parish Health, sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Health and Belhaven University. Workshops on the opening day focused on adult mental health, while the second day focused on youth mental health.

TUPELO – Dr. Bradford Smith speaks about the importance of recognizing a mental health crisis on Aug. 22 at the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) workshop. (Photo by Charlene Bearden)

Created in 2001 by Betty Kitchener, a nurse specializing in health education and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor, the MHFA program is designed to teach individuals how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders in a community.
It is vital for parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human service workers, law enforcement officers and caring citizens to learn how to offer initial assistance to someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis or addiction challenge. Introducing participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental illness, building understanding of their impact and providing an overview of common supports are hallmarks of the MHFA program. The goal is to take the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems by improving understanding and providing an action plan that teaches people to safely and responsibly identify and address a potential mental illness or substance use disorder.
Participants in the workshops led by licenses psychologist, Dr. Bradford Smith, Ph. D., Provost and Vice President of academic affairs at Belhaven University, felt that they received vital insights and skills to handle mental health emergencies and the ability to offer support to someone who appears to be in mental distress. In addition to the hands-on training by Dr. Smith, participants in the program received a comprehensive MHFA reference manual and certificate of completion, valid for three years.
Sister Pat Clemen, program coordinator of parish health ministry at Catholic Charities said that “the MHFA training was well received. The participants were very much engaged in the training. Their insights and experience enhanced the learning for all attendees. Comments from the trainings lead us to believe that more Mental Health First Aid trainings are a must.”
The Diocese of Jackson’s Office of Family Ministry and Catholic Charities are in talks to offer additional MHFA workshops in other areas of the diocese, the first of which will be in spring 2020.

(Charlene Bearden is Coordinator for the Office of Family Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson and a member of Jackson Holy Family Parish)