City offers free mental health first aid workshops

Phil­adelphi­ans are more likely to en­counter people with men­tal health is­sues than they are likely to come across someone hav­ing a heart at­tack.

One in four Phil­adelphi­ans have some sort of men­tal health con­di­tion, said Brooke Feld­man, com­munity out­reach co­ordin­at­or with the city’s De­part­ment of Be­ha­vi­or­al Health In­tel­lec­tu­al dis­Ab­il­ity Ser­vices. Among those men­tal health prob­lems are de­pres­sion, bi­polar con­di­tions or sub­stance ab­use. 

It’s be­cause of those stat­ist­ics, which echo na­tion­al num­bers, that the city has been of­fer­ing free men­tal health first aid work­shops since 2012. In the North­east, the next eight-hour ses­sion will be held at Friends Hos­pit­al on Aug. 12, Feld­man said in a Ju­ly 21 phone in­ter­view. The 20 or so seats in that work­shop are just about filled up, she said, but ad­ded Friends hosts the men­tal health pro­grams every oth­er month. There will be an­oth­er on Oct. 14.

So, the ob­vi­ous ques­tion is: Why would you, or, should you, sign up for this train­ing? Men­tal health first aid, Feld­man said, is just as much a lifesaver as med­ic­al first aid. Work­shop at­tendees learn how to spot the warn­ing signs of men­tal health prob­lems.

Fam­ily mem­bers are the first to see a de­vel­op­ing ill­ness, she said. They’re taught how to re­cog­nize the warn­ing signs of prob­lems.

Each work­shop places a huge em­phas­is on re­cog­niz­ing the har­bingers of sui­cide, she said.

De­pres­sion, with­draw­ing from fa­vor­ite activ­it­ies, pains not ex­plained by a phys­ic­al ill­ness and self-isol­a­tion are a few sig­nals, Feld­man said. 

“We are not aim­ing to dia­gnose or treat men­tal health con­di­tions,” Feld­man said, but ad­ded the work­shop fo­cuses on show­ing people to re­cog­nize im­me­di­ate risks, how to listen non­judg­ment­ally, how to re­as­sure and provide in­form­a­tion, and how to dir­ect people to care and to en­cour­age them to seek pro­fes­sion­al help, and how to en­cour­age self-help.

Feld­man said the course ori­gin­ated in Aus­tralia and came to the United States in 2008. DB­HIDS Com­mis­sion­er Dr. Ar­thur Evans star­ted the pro­gram in Phil­adelphia in 2012, she said. The pro­gram is set up for the gen­er­al pub­lic. Ex­per­i­ence in deal­ing with men­tal health is­sues is not re­quired. So far, more than 5,300 have been trained, Feld­man said.

The Healthy Minds Philly course in­volves role-play­ing to help build an un­der­stand­ing of the risks, warn­ing signs and im­pacts of men­tal health prob­lems. Work­shop at­tendees are shown how to as­sess a men­tal health crisis. Each course is con­duc­ted by a cer­ti­fied in­struct­or. To re­gister, vis­it heal­thy­m­ind­­px

Fol­low the links to sign up for train­ing at Friends Hos­pit­al, 4641 Roosevelt Blvd.

Groups can train to­geth­er, too, she said. For in­form­a­tion, call Feld­man at 215-790-4996. •• 

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