by Rebekah Cartwright

Training In Hopes of Holding Back Violence

If someone close to you plunges into a mental health crisis that puts them, or others, at risk, would you know what to do? That question, posed in 2011 at a faculty meeting at Carroll Community College, sparked a mental health first aid program that has touched hundreds of lives across the county. As more tragedies linked to mental health disorders continued to unfold nationwide, the McDaniel College community and law enforcement agencies unfolded mental health first aid programs as well.

The universal hope is that with more training, more people will be able to respond quickly and tragic violence can be held back.

The World Health Organization reports that one in four people experiences some form of mental health disorder. Whether it’s a coworker, relative, neighbor or friend, most people know someone who struggles.

Mental health first aid training helps participants know how to detect if someone is experiencing some form of mental health crisis, and then respond in a way that will hopefully diffuse that crisis until additional assistance arrives.

“Mental health is a global issue, as well as a community issue,” said Millie Bahnsen, a mental health first aid trainer and the Coordinator of Nursing and Health Care Training at Carroll Community College. She noted that the community college’s program was initially a response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“We were always very interested from the start in mental health first aid. We offer first aid, we offer CPR and here was mental health first aid. It was something the community needed and we were committed to providing it,” Bahnsen said.

The original goal of the program was to train Carroll Community College faculty and staff members to be prepared for a crisis situation.

Sylvia Blair, Director of College Communications, Media Relations and Staff Development at the college, said she was pleasantly surprised by the training program’s reception.

“The response [to mental health first aid training] has been terrific,” Blair said. “It has been a ripple effect. We have been systematically working with different departments with the training program. We are at the point where department heads are asking us for this training.”

Carroll Community College’s 8-hour mental health first aid training program outlines five steps that follow that acronym ALGEE: Assessing the situation; Listening non-judgmentally; Giving reassurance; Encouraging one to seek appropriate professional help; and Encouraging self-help, said Jo Lynn Minnema, associate professor of nursing at Carroll Community College.

“The mental health first aider does not become a therapist; they aren’t responsible for any outcomes for that individual,” Minnema said. “It’s just like medical first aid. If someone breaks their arm, the first aider is not responsible for making sure that that arm is treated and x-rayed. The first aider just makes sure the arm is immobilized. Mental health first aid training works the same way.”

The training program educates participants in various mental health issues, including depression, alcoholism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The training ultimately results in a national certification.

Through a partnership with the Carroll County Department of Health, a similar program designed for members of the community has allowed for more than 300 people in the community to be trained since January 2014.

Dawn Brown, Director of Quality Improvement and Prevention for the Carroll County Health Department, helps coordinate the mental health first aid training program. She said the training also allows participants to form a deeper understanding of mental health issues.

“What we notice is a change in language,” she said. “There are words that we use that are not intentionally meant to be harmful, but people have become more aware of the words they use.”

Minnema said that in addition to helping participants prepare for a mental health crisis, the training program also tries to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“One of the biggest issues with people with mental health issues is that they don’t seek help because of the stigma about mental health disorders,” Minnema said. “One of our objectives is for people to understand mental health disorders, and that really goes a long way to help to reduce the stigma. They come to the point where they are no longer calling people crazy or lunatics because they realize these are in fact our neighbors, our coworkers.”

Tony Olivis, a mental health first aid trainer and the Crisis Response Nurse with the Carroll County Health Department, agreed. He finds that community awareness is the most important part of the mental health first aid training.

A lot of times people from our community don’t know what to do or where to turn when it comes to mental illness, he said.

What the Carroll County Health Department has found is that people in the community want to be educated about mental health issues. Local organizations and businesses have been sending their staff members to get trained.

For some, the decision to get trained is professional, while for others it is personal. For Cindy Eikenberg it was both. She is the Director of Marketing for Mosaic Community Services, which provides support for people with mental illnesses and addictions and has a branch in Westminster. She took the training through Mosaic’s mental health first aid program and is now a certified trainer.

“Primarily, becoming a certified trainer was an important opportunity for me to gain skills and knowledge that elevate my ability to effectively share the incredible work that Mosaic does each day across our communities and increase my contributions to the team,” she said. “Additionally, with personal family experience with mental illness and addiction, I felt a compelling need for a deeper level of understanding and way to create a positive impact.”

For Sergeant Chris Collins, becoming a mental health first aid trainer was one of the best ways for him to create a positive impact on the students he works with at McDaniel College. He’s been a campus safety officer at the college for more than 27 years, and he was among the first officers in the county to be trained in mental health first aid.

Not only did he receive the training, but he has trained all of the college’s campus safety department, as well as most of its student affairs staff.

With training programs being offered through McDaniel College, Carroll Community College, the health department, Carroll Hospital Center and the police department, hundreds of people have been trained in mental health first aid in Carroll County in recent years.

You can’t tell just by looking at them. You might not be able to tell from talking to them. You could’ve known them for years and have no clue. But, chances are you know someone who has been trained in mental health first aid.