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Valley News Dispatch

Westmoreland Casemanagment and Supports Inc. offers mental first aid class

Chuck Biedka
| Thursday, May 4, 2017, 11:50 p.m.
Scout Young
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
Scout Young

Michel M. Keller is one in a million and she hopes you can be, too.

More people should learn mental health first aid, said Keller, a staff development manager for Westmoreland Casemanagment and Supports Inc., which has offices in New Kensington, Greensburg and Monessen.

The organization offers an eight-hour mental first aid class from the National Council for Behavioral Health that introduces participants to basic elements of mental health concerns such as risk factors and warning signs.

One million people have completed the course across the United States and more could benefit from it, she said.

The class teaches about mental illnesses crises, what to say and how to get basic care for people — possibly suicidal — until professional help arrives. There are classes for youth, companies, and a 40-hour class for police.

“I believe it's more common for you to see someone with a panic attack than someone with a heart attack,” said Scout Young of Vandergrift, who took classes to help adults and children.

Mental health and first aid emergencies are both important and require a quick response, “but there a lot more people suffering from mental health who aren't getting the help they need,” she said.

The training is helpful because mental health is a community problem.

“This is something that you do until you can get professional help there and they will assist in the way needed,” Young said.

Helpers must assess the situation.

“If you are in a situation where it is a danger to yourself or believe it can become a danger, it's important to remember your safety comes first and to let the right professionals handle it,” she said.

Numbers show need

Nationwide, the rate of youth depression increased to 11.1 percent in 2014 from 8.5 percent in 2011, according to a report by Mental Health America made available to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Eighty percent of youths with severe depression were left with insufficient or no treatment, according to the report.

“One in five adults develop a mental health issue some time in their life,” said Lisa Basci, of the Community Services Group, a Lancaster County-based company that also teaches mental health first aid in Western Pennsylvania. “Sometimes it can take years for them to get help.”

The regional affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness endorsed the training.

“It removes the stigma for the everyday person, provides a layman's understanding of someone experiencing emotional distress and enables the person to be helpful, to interact with the individual and most importantly not be afraid,” said Chris Michaels, NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania's executive director.

Many people are not getting care for mental illness in a timely manner, she said. The National Institute on Mental Health says that 50 percent of individuals experiencing serious mental illness are untreated and it might take eight to 10 years to get that care, Michaels said.University of Pittsburgh professor of social work Lynn Coghill supports mental health first aid and urges people to not reject or ignore people with mental illness.

“Most people walk around people on the street who clearly have a mental health issue. They are not willing to engage and provide a human contact with these people who desperately need it and get them to a licensed professional,” she said.

Teaching mental health first aid will also have another benefit, she said.

“It will show people how to help and it could go a long way to dispel the stigma many have about mental illness,” said Coghill, who also has a private practice.

On Friday, about 20 Armstrong, Westmoreland, Butler and Indiana county officers completed the week-long Crisis Intervention training class at the Allegheny Township municipal building, said Lee Schumaker, law enforcement coordinator for the local classes.

The classes focused on how to safely de-escalate people in a mental health crisis, including veterans with post-traumatic stress and the mentally ill who abuse drugs, he said.

Keller knows that mental health first aid works.

“With CPR you may use it once. With mental health first aid you can use it every day,” said Keller, who previously worked at the New Kensington office.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or or on Twitter @ ChuckBiedka.

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