There are a lot of Decorah area residents who are trained in how to provide first aid. But until recently there weren't very many people who were trained in how to provide mental health first aid.
That's the goal of a 12-hour Mental Health First Aid class that will be offered this Thursday and Friday at The Spectrum Network. The training teaches skills for providing initial assistance to people experiencing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorders. Created for the lay person, the course is the mental health equivalent of CPR training--anyone can provide first responder-type assistance until professional help becomes available.
Lee Zook, who is leading this week's training, says the program covers "things people don't like to talk about." That includes topics like depression, suicide, alcohol & drug abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety and psychoses. Zook says many times friends, neighbors and relatives of people experiencing these problems look away instead of offering to help. That's because they feel at a loss to know how to respond.
Zook says the training is not aimed at turning people into mental health professionals but just at providing everyday people with some training to help the people they encounter. He says the secret is to assess what problems are evident, listen to the people with the problems, get information about those problems and encourage them to both get professional help and to help themselves.
Already some 150 people in Northeast Iowa have taken the training. They include police officers, pharmacists, jailers, merchants and most of the staff of the Decorah Public Library. Library Director Lorraine Borowski says her staff got the training because the library is a public meeting place that has seen traffic increase this year, in part because many out of work people have been using the library as a resource in their job search.
The Winneshiek County Central Point of Coordination office can answer questions about the program at (563) 387-4144. Registration for this week's training, which runs from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at The Sprectrum Network offices in Decorah, can be made by contacting the University of Iowa's Jill Kluesner at (563) 583-5545, extension 605. The Community Circle of Care in Decorah is also helping to fund the program.
Zook says he's hoping the training will help to reduce the stigma of mental illness in Northeast Iowa. More than 26 percent of American adults experience a mental health problem in any one year, so learning how to deal with people suffering from a mental health problem is important. He says the people who have taken the training course have said afterward they are more comfortable in knowing how to respond in such situations.