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Mental Health First Aid: Providing Vital Training to Address Mental Health During COVID-19

By Kim McPherson, MPAff, Senior Program Officer

Published July 2, 2020

It’s an understatement to say we are living in unsettling times. There is much about the pandemic that we don’t know.  But we do know it is introducing stressors to our mental health — loneliness stemming from social isolation, fear of contracting the disease, economic strain, lack of comforting routines, and uncertainty about the future.

According to survey data reported in the most recent issue of JAMA, COVID-19 and its fall out is exacting a toll on our mental health. In April 2020, 13.6% of U.S. adults reported symptoms of serious psychological distress, relative to 3.9% participating in a similar survey in 2018. Young adults and people with low-income were most likely to report mental health strain.

These data were reported before the recent race-based violence and murders, which continue to prompt protests across the country and world.  While vital to launching an honest inspection of racism, these events add another layer of uncertainty and stress to our nation’s collective mental health.

What we are going through now is hard. Harder for some people than others, harder on some days than others, but all the same hard. Hardness that can take a toll – particularly when we have no timeline or understanding of what our a new normal will look like.  It’s possible that the coronavirus pandemic will be followed by a second pandemic of anxiety, depression and other challenges to our mental health, stemming from the economic dislocation, isolation and stress of our current situation.

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. We need to take care of ourselves, and be prepared to help our family, friends and neighbors when they need us. Beyond reaching out to someone who might be struggling, there is also a need for more formal training. Similar to taking a CPR class to help us recognize the signs of distress and how to help someone whose heart stops, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) can prepare us to respond when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. The 8-hour training provides the basic tools to help someone who is showing signs of mental illness, substance use disorder or experiencing a mental health crisis.

Just as CPR can save someone in those critical moments when suffering from a heart attack or unable to breath, Mental Health First Aid can save a life.

Peer-reviewed studies show that individuals who complete the course:

  • Grow their knowledge of signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions.
  • Can identify multiple types of professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental illness or addiction.
  • Increase their confidence in and likelihood to help an individual in distress.
  • Show increased mental wellness themselves.
  • Helps to address the stigma of mental illness

Through an initiative between St. David’s Foundation and Integral Care, the nonprofit that provides mental health services and advocacy in Central Texas, Mental Health First Aid training has expanded — now allowing participants across the region the opportunity to complete the course for free. Not only is the training now able to reach more people during this critical time, it also helps to address the gap in early intervention.  It’s one more way we can all help strengthen our local public health safety net and support one another as we navigate these unprecedented and stressful times.

Mental Health First Aid is available virtually through a combination of self-paced work and instructor led, interactive training via Zoom. Registration is simple and the newly gained knowledge could make all the difference in easing someone’s journey or saving a life. For more information or to register for a class, please visit here or email  [email protected].