The eight-hour course was taught by Assistant Manager Tara Lathrop and Certified Prevention Professional Katie Badders with Harford County Government’s Department of Community Services Office of Drug Control Policy. Topics covered in the course included depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis and substance abuse.
Lathrop said MHFA is a national course that teaches the risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns. Like CPR, MHFA prepares participants to interact with a person in crisis and connect the person with help. Those trained and certified in MHFA do not diagnose or provide counseling or therapy.
“The course information is most relevant in situations where it becomes apparent to others that persons in their social network are developing serious mental health problems,” she said.
Attendees were taught the MHFA’s five-step action plan “ALGEE” which means Assess for risk of suicide or harm; Listen nonjudgmentally; Give reassurance and information; Encourage appropriate professional help; and Encourage self-help and other support strategies. Participants engaged in role playing activities and simulations to practice the MHFA action plan.
Lathrop and Badders also discussed suicide risk factors and warning signs. They include:
• Threatening to kill or hurt oneself
• Seeking access to means (doctor shopping, stock piling medication or weapons)
• Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
• Feeling hopeless
• Feeling worthless or lack of a purpose
• Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities
• Feeling trapped
Badders encouraged attendees to refer employees who display warning signs to the Employee Assistance Program, or EAP.
“You have an EAP, use it, take advantage of it,” she said.
EAP Coordinator Wayne Allen said the EAP provides free confidential services that include screening to identify problems, short-term counseling and, when appropriate, referrals to off-post facilities or services. EAP assists civilians and their family members whenever feasible, with problems that might affect their well-being and their ability to do their jobs, he said.
“The goal of the EAP is to restore Department of the Army civilian employees to full productivity and improve the mental health and well-being of the people and communities we serve,” he said.
AMSAA Technical Director Suzanne Milchling said the course taught her several helpful techniques, like ALGEE.
“The techniques I learned will come in handy as I interact with my elderly parents,” she said. “While not stressed in the class, the elderly also have issues with depression and anxiety and it’s important to be on the look-out for the signs and listen if they are talking about any of the symptoms, [like being] unwilling to do things they used to enjoy, having issues sleeping, and general sluggishness.”
Attendee Andrew Barnett, a mechanical engineer who coordinated with the EAP to bring the course to AMSAA, said the training is critical.
“Mental health issues are more common than we think, it is really important to know what to look for and how to react once signs present themselves,” he said.
Mental Health First Aid
MHFA is managed and operated by the National Council for Behavioral Health and Missouri Department for Mental Health. According to the MHFA website, it was introduced in the U.S. in 2008 and, to date, hundreds of thousands of people from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have taken the course. Approximately 400 people a day in the U.S. are trained in MHFA.
The course is sponsored by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Mental Health Association of Maryland.
For more information about MHFA, visit https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org. For information about the EAP or hosting a MHFA course, contact Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org or EAP Coordinator Robin Stokes at email@example.com.