Wednesday I took an 8-hour course in Mental Health First Aid. There were 14 participants, 11 of whom already worked with clients in a professional capacity such as school guidance counselors and case managers at a women’s shelter. Two others were also psychology majors, but they are about to complete their degrees. I was the only one in the room who knew the difference between a sign and a symptom – a sign is what other people can observe, whereas a symptom is what the sufferer feels.
The course was primarily focused on introducing basic information about a variety of mental illnesses, and learning how to apply the ALGEE action plan in different situations. We did several activities throughout the day. One was to each take a sign with the name of an illness (physical or mental) and line up in order from least to most disabling. The person who had “low back pain” went to the least disabling end and we all pushed her far in the other direction. Obviously she had never experienced back pain.
Another exercise was for each table of 3-4 people to take a big sheet of paper and the scented Mr. Sketch markers and draw a representation of a panic attack. In my group I was assigned to do the drawing while other people threw out ideas. I wish I’d had a chance to take a picture of the end result.
We also did an exercise that is planned for next year’s Crisis Intervention Team meeting. It required holding a conversation with someone while another person whispered paranoid thoughts in your ear. I could not follow what my conversation partner was saying at all. I was frustrated and angry within 60 seconds and can’t imagine having to live with that constantly.
At the end of the training, 13 people got up and sped out the door. One person stayed to help put the tables back where they belonged. One of the mottoes I was taught doing theatre was “Always leave a space better than how you found it.” I certainly couldn’t walk off and leave it worse.
A great deal of the information covered was already familiar to me. However, I now feel much more confident about my ability to hold a helpful conversation with a person in crisis.