If a co-worker were having a mental health crisis, would you know what to do? Do you think you’d even recognize the signs? Most people know someone that has a mental illness, but as a community, our understanding of its prevalence, consequences and treatment is lacking.

Mental illness is beginning to shake its undeserved stigma, and treatment options are becoming more accessible. The millions of people who are living happy healthy lives by getting help and managing their mental illness can attest to the progress we’ve seen in the last several years. World Mental Health Month, March, provides a great opportunity to get America on the right track, and a simple, one-day training called Mental Health First Aid is perhaps the easiest way for each of us to start.

Most people are familiar with diagnoses like major depression and bipolar disorder. But mental illnesses also include anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders and others. The overwhelming majority of mental illnesses are usually invisible to the outside world. Mass shootings may grab national headlines, but violent acts are very rare consequences of mental illness. Statistics show that people with mental illnesses are at increased risk of being a victim of violent crime, not a perpetrator of it.

Mental illness is a quiet, private tormentor. It can rip families apart, ruin careers and shatter the lives of once happy, productive children and adults. Untreated, it is a significant contributor to homelessness, suicide, disability, absenteeism and inappropriate incarceration. On average, people living with a serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than other Americans, due to other treatable medical conditions that are complicated by mental illness.

There are more than 44 million, 18 percent of adults in the United States, living with a diagnosable mental illness. This number increases when drug and alcohol addiction is included. Just over 20 percent of children have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder. In fact, it’s far more likely that we’ll encounter a friend, co-worker, student or family member in a mental health crisis than in a swimming pool accident or during a heart attack.

Learn to recognize the signs that someone needs help for a mental illness through free mental health first aid training.

The training won’t turn you into a psychiatrist, but will teach you what signs to look for and simple steps to take to provide quick help. That’s why it’s called “first aid.” The standardized curriculum teaches the signs of substance use disorder and mental illnesses and offers a five-step action plan to assess a situation and local resources that provide professional help.

The causes and consequences of mental illness are complicated. Mental Health First Aid is a simple step toward helping a friend, loved one or co-worker in need. Help kick off Mental Health Awareness Month by learning more about local trainings and register to attend.

For information about Mental Health First Aid trainings, visit www.gulfcoast center.org.

Melissa Tucker is executive director of the Gulf Coast Center.


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