Mental Health First Aid

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In light of recent gun violence, an Arizona lawmaker is introducing a bill to help render mental health first aid to those in need. Representative Victoria Steele will discuss her bill with Barbara DiClemente, a Mental Health First Aid Specialist from First Presbyterian, a behavioral health organization.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Recent mass shootings around the country have led many to examine the roles of gun in society, the events have also led to questions of how mental illness factors in. A bill has been introduced in the state legislature that would provide half a million dollars for a program that helps people recognize and respond to signs of mental illness and abuse disorders. Here now to talk about her bill is representative victoria steele. And also, joining us is Barbara DiClemente for first Presbyterian, a behavioral health agency, she's also a certified trainer for mental health first aid. Good to have you here and thanks for joining us.

Victoria Steele: Barbara DiClemente: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Mental health, first aid, what are we talking about here?

Victoria Steele: Mental health first aid is a program that trains the trainers. So, it trains people on how to identify people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. How to intervene effectively, and how to get them the basic care and get them to a professional.

Ted Simons: Were these things that were lacking prior? They sound common sense here.

Victoria Steele: It does sound common sense, and I keep saying this, but it's so true. In our society, we are better prepared in general, just basic people, better prepared to help someone who is having a heart attack then someone having a panic attack. And that's nice to see, thanks to CPR and first aid training, so if someone breaks their leg we know how to help. If someone has a heart attack, we know how to help. But if somebody says, I'm thinking of killing myself, we want to run. Because we don't know how to help. If somebody has mental illness, we don't understand it. And we look away. And I'm a counselor, so that's, that's what I do and, and you know, I understand how, how terrible the stigma is around mental illness.

Ted Simons: Is it getting better with that stigma on both ends from those who suffer and those who respond?

Barbara DiClemente: We're trying to get it better, and I think that mental health for a state is really going to break the barrier. I say that the mental health first aid has taken the fear out of mental health. And the stigma will always be around with us, but education, education, education is what's going to stop it.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the education. You have a friend there.

Barbara DiClemente: My little friend.

Ted Simons: His name is algae.

Barbara DiClemente: Algae.

Ted Simons: But he's a Koala bear.

Barbara DiClemente: The program was originally developed by Betty kitchner. So the Koala bear was the mascot, we just kind of like use him now, we put usa on him, and he is our mascot for mental health.

Ted Simons: And algae is an acronym, let's start with the a, assessing risk of suicide. How do you know?

Victoria Steele: Well, that's why need the training. Because, because most people don't really know what's happening. And a lot of times, what you really need to do is just ask the question. Are you thinking of hurting yourself?

Ted Simons: And that's as simple as that?

Victoria Steele: Yes.

Ted Simons: Do you get, do always get the, an accurate response? Or again, is it a lot of Bobbing and weaving here?

Barbara DiClemente: Usually, but what we're doing is really teaching the every day person to ask these questions. And I was working with a woman teaching a class, and when she left the class she went home and her brother called her and said I'm thinking of committing suicide, and, and she said, well how? And he said, well, there is a tree outside, and she says when? In about an hour, and from what she learned in mental health and first aid, an hour after she left me, she saved her brother's life. And right now, he's doing marvelously.

Ted Simons: And I am guessing that, that this happened because of the, going through the name here, the l is listen, non judgmentally? That, can that be difficult at times?

Barbara DiClemente: The hardest part of it, but the most important, I tell my student, should we have two ear and is one mouth? So why are we talking so much? We should really listen more, and people most of the time, my family members, they just want a person to talk to. And it helps, and that is the most important part. One of the most important parts of this.

Victoria Steele: And one of the things that I really want people to know is we're not trying to make clinicians out of everybody. We just want people to know the basic elements of reaching out and helping a neighbor. So, this training is for people who are coaches. People who are moms and dads and neighbors. And people who work with the public. People who work in education, first responders. Police officers. And anybody. Should have this training, so that they know how to give help, and if somebody is having mental health crisis.

Ted Simons: And again, know how to give help, would be to encourage appropriate professional help and to encourage self help, and there is two es in algee.

Barbara DiClemente: Victoria Steele: Yes.

Victoria Steele: And we want to help get people to the proper level of treatment. Maybe all they need to do is talk to their minister. Maybe they need to be hospitalized. We don't make that determination but we help to figure out where do they go? Where do we get them connected to the community resources? So, that's all part of that training, and I think that, if we had this, we might not have seen as much violence as we have seen.

Ted Simons: And yeah, and it's a good point because I think people are watching, you know, thinking well, wait a minute, what if there is a Jared Loughner around? You recognized it. You assessed it, you understood it, and you have gone through the algee, if you will, what do you do next?

Barbara DiClemente: You get him help. And you alert other people to what's going on with him. I, truly believe that, that if, if everybody said that when they were with Loughner they were petrified of him, I really think if they had taken mental health, first aid they would have been alerted to the signs and symptoms, and they could have averted it. I'm not 100% sure. Nobody is. But, I think that it would have helped.

Ted Simons: And I guess, I get, the question is how far can you go alerting authorities and these things. I mean, the individual rights aspect comes into play, regarding mental health, and it's a complicate issue.

Victoria Steele: And that's all part of the training. Who you tell, when, and how. And but.

Ted Simons: And how forcefully.

Victoria Steele: One of the things we need to do is raise the literacy around mental health so there is no stigma any more, so that people are not afraid to talk about it. And one of the most difficult things for a parent to say is, is my child, has a mental illness. That's really tough. And that should not be. Because it's just another disorder. It's just another thing that can be treated just like cancer.

Barbara DiClemente: When my daughter was diagnosed 20 years ago, and I literally wished that, that she was diagnosed with cancer. Because I was so ashamed, I didn't know who to turn to. And people ran from me. And now, I realize that I say to everybody, that if it wasn't for her, I would not be doing this. And this is why I help other parents and other family members and the community at large, to show them that there is help because I never wanted another family member to have to go through the shame and the stigma that my family went through.

Ted Simons: Are you hearing similar stories from families that go through the program?

Barbara DiClemente: 24-7. That's why they come to me. They can't talk to anybody else, but they can talk to me.

Victoria Steele: And I just say that this is a really important bill. This is probably one of the most important things that I may do while I'm in office. I just really feel that strongly about it. And I'm working with my Republican counterpart, I'm a democrat, he's a Republican. And his name is Ethan ore, he's the primary on this bill, and we are working together, and we have the support both parties. I have not gotten any pushback at all from this.

Ted Simons: And real quickly, last question, this is an existing program that's looking for additional funding.

Victoria Steele: Right, so we can get more people trained.

Ted Simons: And it's out in and you have got the Koala bear there to remind people that it exists.

Barbara DiClemente: Exactly. It's a two-day certified class, and it's a marvelous experience for everyone. Because everybody thinks that bipolar and schizophrenia are the main parts of mental illness, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and they are rampant, and our neighbors, our family members, and we need to get this out.

Ted Simons: All right. Well, it's good information, it's good to have you both here, along with the bear there, and thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Victoria Steele: Barbara DiClemente: Thank you very much.

Victoria Steele:Representative, Arizona; Barbara DiClemente:Mental Health First Aid Specialist, First Presbyterian;

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