San Diego County Announces Free Access To Mental Health First Aid Program
THIS IS KPBS MIDDAY EDITION. I'M MAUREEN CAVANAUGH. IS IT JUST A BAD DAY OR SOMETHING WORSE? HOW CAN YOU TELL IF SOMEONE IS SUFFERING FROM A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE. AND IF YOU DO KNOW, HOW CAN YOU HELP? SAN DIEGO COUNTY IS NOW MAKING FREE CLASSES AVAILABLE IN MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID. SIMILAR TO THE USUAL FIRST AID CLASSES THAT ARE AIMED AT GIVING AVERAGE PEOPLE THE SKILLS TO INTERVENE AND GIVE SOME INITIAL HELP TO PEOPLE STRUGGLING WITH A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS. THE CLASSES ARE BEING CONDUCTED BY MENTAL HEALTH AMERICA OF SAN DIEGO COUNTY. JOINING ME ARE THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE ORGANIZATION, THE THEME WILSON AND CAFFEINE, THANK YOU FOR COMING IN. THANK YOU, MAUREEN. PLEASURE TO BE HERE. ALSO KURT CUNNINGHAM, OVER TORNADO FOR MENTAL HEALTH AMERICA. WELCOME. THANK YOU. CAFFEINE, FIRST AID CLASSES USUALLY TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO OVERCOME THE PHYSICAL INJURY THAT MENTAL HEALTH IT ISSUES ARE NOT ALWAYS OBVIOUS WHAT SIGNS DO YOU TELL THEM TO LOOK FOR ? WE KNOW THAT MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES OFTEN PRESENT THEMSELVES THROUGH ISOLATION OR AGITATION OR PERSON SEEMINGLY DIFFERENT THAN THEY NORMALLY HAVE BEEN. IT'S IMPORTANT THAT WE PROVIDE THE KIND OF SUPPORT AND ASSISTANCE AND DON'T HESITATE TO REALLY INQUIRE HOW WE BEST CAN HELP SOMEONE PERIOD I THINK PART OF THE CHALLENGE IS MOST PEOPLE FACE THAT THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT TOOLS OR THEY HAVEN'T RECEIVED THE TOOLS OR KNOW WHAT TO SAY, HOW TO ENGAGE PERSON, ARE THEY SAYING THE RIGHT THING, IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE THAT THIS MIGHT BE SOMETHING THAT IS A MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM. SO IT'S IMPORTANT THING THAT WE GIVE PEOPLE TOOLS AND SKILLS OF HOW TO ENGAGE AND SUPPORT AND HOW TO ENSURE THAT THE PERSON DOESN'T SIT AND SUFFER IN SILENCE OR PROGRESSED TO THE POINT OF HOSPITALIZATION BECAUSE A LOT OF THINGS THAT COULD BE DONE. AND WHAT ABOUT IF SOMEONE IS NOT SITTING IN SILENCE COURTS WHAT ABOUT SOMEONE HAVING AN OBVIOUS MANIC OR EVEN PSYCHOTIC EPISODE OF SOME KIND? WOULD MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID COURSE DIFFUSE A SITUATION LIKE THAT ? IT DOES BECAUSE WHAT WE TEACH PEOPLE ARE SOME TOOLS OF HOW TO SUPPORT A PERSON AND AN ACTIVE PSYCHOTIC CIRCUMSTANCE. THERE IS A TERM WE USE IN THE TRAINING COLD ALGEE ASSIST, LISTEN, GIVE REASONABLE OR REASSURANCE, IT ALSO SAYS ENCOURAGE WITH PROFESSIONAL HEALTH AND ENCOURAGE SELF-HELP. SO WHAT WE DO IS ACTUALLY MAKE -- TEACH INDIVIDUALS HOW THEY -- THEY DON'T LEAVE A PERSON WHO'S HAVING A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS BUT SEEK HELP AND HOW TO ENGAGE THEM, TALK WITH THEM, HOW TO ENSURE THAT THERE IS HELP AVAILABLE. WHAT OUR COURSES LIKE THIS NEEDED? DO PEOPLE GET ANY KIND OF BASIC INFORMATION ABOUT HOW TO DEAL WITH SOMEONE WHO'S GOING THROUGH EITHER ALLOW PRICES OR PROBABLY MORE OFTEN A SILENT CRISIS., FAMILY AND FRIENDS. IF YOU CAN COMPARE TO PHYSICAL FIRST AID, SLIGHT THINGS HAPPEN WITH INDIVIDUALS AND GIVES YOU AN INDICATION THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM. IF YOU IGNORE THEM, USUALLY THE PROBLEM IS MORE PRONOUNCED AND THE PERSON CAN HAVE A HEART ATTACK. THE SAME THING WITH MENTAL HEALTH, OFTEN TIMES THERE ARE SLIGHT SIGNS OF PEOPLE WITH THAT WITHDRAWING, FEELING AGITATED, DIFFERENT THAN THEY NORMALLY ARE. AND EVEN THE COMMENTS SHOW THEY ARE EXPERIENCING SOMETHING DIFFERENT. IT'S CLEARLY IMPORTANT THAT WE ENGAGE AND HELP THEM RECEIVE THE SUPPORT AND ASSISTANCE THEY NEED. THERE IS HELP AVAILABLE. PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW TO GET -- ACCESS IT AND WHAT TO DO. KURT CUNNINGHAM, BEFORE WORKING WITH MENTAL HEALTH AMERICA, I KNOW YOU EXPERIENCED YOUR OWN STRUGGLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS. DID YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ? NO. QUITE THE OPPOSITE, ACTUALLY BECAUSE WE DON'T TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES OR MENTAL ILLNESS, MOST PEOPLE DO NOT WANT TO -- KNOW WHAT TO DO. FRIENDS RETREAT, I BECAME ISOLATED, EVEN FAMILY WAS CONCERNED BUT DIDN'T HAVE THE TOOLS I DID KNOW WHAT TO DO TO HELP. WHAT ARE THE THINGS THEY WOULD SAY ? I HAD FRIENDS SAY THAT THEY DIDN'T WANT TO HANG OUT BECAUSE THEY WERE WORRIED I WOULD BE DEPRESSED. I CAN'T BLAME THEM. THEY DID KNOW. IT WASN'T THEM TRYING TO BE MEAN, NOBODY WANTS TO BE AROUND DEBBIE DOWNER. SOMETIMES IT'S MORE THAN JUST DEBBIE DOWNER AND PEOPLE DON'T HAVE THE TOOLS TO RECOGNIZE WHAT IT IS. SINCE THEY CAN BE TAUGHT IN THE FIRST A CLASS, THERE MUST BE SOMETHING VERY BASIC AND UNCOMPLICATED THINGS THAT PEOPLE CAN SAY THAT WILL HELP. LET ME GO TO YOU. WHAT WE TEACH INDIVIDUALS AS I MENTIONED EARLIER IS HOW TO ENGAGE A PERSON. SO WE TEACH THE ACRONYM ALGEE. WE HELP PEOPLE APPRECIATE YOU CAN DO THIS IN A NONJUDGMENTAL WAY. IT'S IMPORTANT THAT YOU ASK THE PERSON IF THEY ARE THINKING ABOUT HARMING THEMSELVES AND PEOPLE OFTEN DON'T WANT TO THINK -- THINK THEY CANNOT ASK THE QUESTION. THEY CAN. ALSO MAKING SURE YOU DON'T LEAVE A PERSON WHO IS HAVING AN ACTIVE [ INDISCERNIBLE ] THAT YOU DO AN INTERVENTION. THIS IS IT -- IS IT IMPORTANT WHEN YOU'RE GOING THROUGH DEPRESSION AND YOU FEEL TERRIBLY BAD ABOUT LIFE AND THIS IS PART OF A MENTAL ILLNESS. THAT PEOPLE TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY. DID YOU HAVE PEOPLE BASICALLY TRYING TO CHEER YOU UP ALL THE TIME ? PEOPLE TRIED TO CHEER YOU UP IN DIFFERENT WAYS. THEY JUST THINK GETTING OUT OF THE HOUSE IS GOOD BUT THERE ARE OTHER ASPECTS. I HAD AN ANXIETY ISSUES I WOULD GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND RIGHT AWAY FEEL LIKE I NEEDED TO GET BACK THERE. IT'S COMPLEX. EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT. EVERYBODY HAS A DIFFERENT TYPE OF EXPERIENCE. PEOPLE WOULD SHOW COMPASSION. THAT IS THE NUMBER ONE THING. SHOWING SOMEONE COMPASSION. ASKING THEM IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO. I REALLY SEE THAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH SOMETHING. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU ? YOU SAID SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT THERE BECAUSE I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE DO NOT WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT IT IS THEY'RE SAYING. THEY DON'T WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT A FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER IS GOING TO SOMETHING THAT IS POTENTIALLY SERIOUS. TO JUST ACKNOWLEDGE THAT FACTOR UP FRONT THAT I SEE THAT YOU ARE HAVING A HARD TIME AND TAKE THAT FROM THERE. THAT IS A GOOD ENTRY POINT, DAPHYNE . AGRI OFTEN TIMES PARENTS SEE THEIR CHILDREN AND DON'T WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE FACT THAT THEY ARE SEEING SOMETHING THAT MIGHT BE A PROBLEM. AVOIDANCE IS ALWAYS AN ISSUE AND STIGMA, THE STIGMA AROUND MENTAL HEALTH DUE TO GETTING THE LABEL OF HAVING A MENTAL ILLNESS OR HAVING A LOVED ONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS, PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS SHIED AWAY FROM THAT. RECOGNIZING THAT GOOD, QUALITY MENTAL HEALTH AND MAINTAINING THAT NEEDS ATTENTION AND SUPPORT AND TREATMENT AND SERVICES. DAPHYNE , FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA TALKED ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE IN A MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID TRAINING CLASS. HOW IMPORTANT IS AN ENDORSEMENT LIKE THAT ? IT'S EXCITING FOR US BECAUSE HAVING THE FIRST LADY SPEAK ABOUT HER BECOMING A MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID OR, NOW SHE IS LIKE MANY OTHERS, IS ABLE TO HELP OUT INDIVIDUALS WITH MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES. ALSO, WE KNOW THAT WE HAD TO HAVE PEOPLE -- HAVE TO HAVE PEOPLE BECOME PART OF THE SOLUTION TO THIS CHALLENGE. MORE INDIVIDUALS WE GET TO BE MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID ERS THEY CAN SUPPORT PEOPLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES. IF WE BECOME -- HAVE A CHALLENGE, WHEN YOU THINK EVERY -- ONE IN EVERY FOUR INDIVIDUALS HAVE IT MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE, IT'S COMMON AND WE WILL BE -- IT WILL TOUCH ALL OF US BY INDIVIDUALS OR LOVED ONES OR COWORKERS OR FAMILY MEMBERS WHO HAVE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES. WE WANT TO HAVE A COMPASSIONATE APPROPRIATE CARE THAT WE PROVIDE. RECENTLY, A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE APPARENTLY WAS IN THE NEWS IN A HORRIBLE AND TRAGIC WAY. AS THE STORY UNFOLDS ABOUT THE GERMANWINGS CRASH, IT SEEMS THE COPILOT WAS DEPRESSED AND SUICIDAL WHEN HE FLEW THE PLANE INTO A MOUNTAIN. AND I WANT TO ASK YOU BOTH, STARTING WITH YOU, KURT, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE COVERAGE OF THIS TRAGIC INCIDENT DOES TO THE PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF MENTAL ILLNESS ? THAT STORY IS SOMETHING I HAVE BEEN THINKING ABOUT A LOT. IT CREATES MORE STIGMA. NOT ALL OF THE INFORMATION IS AND YET FROM THE FIRST DAY THAT IT HAPPENED THERE WAS THIS THAT HAPPENED, THIS AND THIS, WEEKS GO BY AND WE LEARN MORE MORE THAN WE CAN SAY HE DID GET TREATMENT BECAUSE OF THE STIGMA. WE DON'T KNOW THE WHOLE STORY. THERE'S SO MANY THINGS THAT WE DON'T KNOW ABOUT YET AND TO EVEN SPEAK TO IT IS DIFFICULT. UNFORTUNATELY, PEOPLE HAVE A NATURAL CURIOSITY AND THE MEDIA PRESS, THAT IS WHAT THEY DO THAT IS THEIR JOB TO FILL THE CURIOSITY. THERE ARE STANDARDS AND PRACTICES THAT WE SHOULD ALL FOLLOW WE TALK ABOUT SUICIDE. IT'S A DIFFICULT SITUATION. I'D LIKE TO SEE THINGS A LITTLE MORE INFORMATION COME IN BEFORE THE DISCUSSION BEGINS. ONE OF THE THINGS THAT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DISCUSSING IN CONNECTION WITH THAT IS IF IT IS POSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE TO HIDE SUCH A PROFOUND MENTAL ILLNESS THAT WOULD HAVE SUCH A TRAGIC RESULT. SO THAT CAN BE HIDDEN, DAPHYNE , OR DO YOU THINK THERE COULD BE A CASE OF PEOPLE JUST NOT SEEING WHAT WAS BEFORE THEIR EYES ? IN MY PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE, I DON'T SEE THAT A PERSON WHO HAS A PROFOUND MENTAL ILLNESS THAT YOU CAN JUST HIDE IT. OFTEN TIMES, IF PEOPLE DON'T SEE THE WARNING SIGNS OF A MAJOR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE. BUT SPEAKING TO WHAT KURT MENTIONED, I THINK AT TIMES WHAT WE SEE AND READ WE GET A DISTORTED VIEW OF WHAT INDIVIDUALS WHO MAY HAVE A MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLE ARE EXPERIENCING. AS I MENTIONED EARLIER, ONE IN EVERY FOUR INDIVIDUALS AT HIM MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGE OF VARYING DEGREES. SO IT DOESN'T MEAN THAT THESE HUGE AND TRAGIC EVENTS ARE TYPICAL. THEY ARE THE OUTLIERS. UNFORTUNATELY, OUR HEART GOES OUT TO ALL OF THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO STRUGGLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES. DO YOU GET THE IMPRESSION SOMETIMES OF PEOPLE BEGAN THE FIRST EIGHT CLASSES, DAPHYNE , BUT THAT MANY PEOPLE FEAR THE MENTALLY ILL ? PEOPLE DO FEAR THE MENTALLY ILL. UNFORTUNATELY, SO MUCH MISUNDERSTANDING AND LACK OF KNOWLEDGE OUT THERE AND EVEN STORIES THAT ARE NOT RELEVANT TO THE REALITY OF PEOPLE'S EXPERIENCE THAT WE NEED TO HELP PEOPLE UNDERSTAND HOW THEY CAN GET SUPPORT AND HELP AT OUR AGENCY, WE SPEND A LOT OF TIME DOING OUTREACH IN THE COMMUNITY TO HELP BREAK DOWN SOME OF THE STIGMA AND SOME CHALLENGES. AND IT SURE PEOPLE GET THE KIND OF HELP THEY NEED. SO WE CONTINUALLY HAVE CLASSES, NOT JUST MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID BUT OTHERS SO THAT WE CAN HELP PEOPLE NOT SUFFER IN SILENCE, NOT BE AFRAID TO SPEAK ABOUT, WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES ARE A GET OUT THEY BE. FIRST, HOW DID YOU OVERCOME YOUR DEPRESSION ? FOR MYSELF AND EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT, THE THING THAT WORKED GREAT FOR ME WAS JUST DIVING INTO LEARNING. I'M SOMEBODY THAT IS A SPONGE. I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING. AND THAT'S HOW I CAME ACROSS THE MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID CLASS. I HAD -- I READ -- I LIKE TO RISE I WROTE A STORY ABOUT DEPRESSION AND IT CAUGHT THE EYE OF ONE OF THE MENTAL HEALTH AMERICA STAFF ON FACEBOOK, ACTUALLY. AND HE IS THE ONE THAT INVITED ME TO MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID. SO DIVING IN AND LEARNING MORE ABOUT IT, LIVING IT, TALKING DASHA TALK MERIT -- TALK THERAPY, MEDICATION, THERE'S DIFFERENT OPTIONS FOR EVERYBODY. SINCE YOU HAVE HAD FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE IN THIS, HOW HAS THAT HELPED YOUR OUTREACH ? TREMENDOUSLY EVEN BEFORE I BECAME A STAFF MEMBER AND MENTAL HEALTH AMERICA, I HAD PUT IN PRACTICE THE STEPS I LEARNED THROUGH MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID WITH AN ACQUAINTANCE. HE WAS HAVING SOME HARD TIME, JOB, LIVING SITUATION, FINANCES, ETC. SO I MET WITH HIM, PERFECT STRANGER, MET WITH HIM AND I HAD THE FIVE STEPS, CHANTING, I HAVE THOSE FIVE STEPS IN MY PHONE. IT'S NOT LIKE I WENT DOWN THE CHECKLIST IS THAT OKAY, OKAY, OKAY, I REVIEWED IT BEFORE MEETING HIM AND I SAT DOWN AND LISTENED TO HIM AND LET HIM TALK AND HEARD HIM OUT AND GOT HIM THE APPROPRIATE HELP. HE WASN'T IN A MAJOR CRISIS BUT HE WAS HEADED THERE. I LISTENED AND PUT THE TOOLS INTO ACTION. DAPHYNE , AFTER A PERSON TRAINED IN MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID WOULD DO AN INTERVENTION LIKE THAT, THE SAN DIEGO HAVE ENOUGH RESOURCES TO TAKE THAT PERSON TO THE NEXT STEP IN WHATEVER TREATMENT THEY MAY NEED ? WELL, SAN DIEGO HAS A LOT OF RESOURCES, A LOT OF MENTAL HEALTH CLINICS, PSYCHIATRIC CARE. IF A PERSON DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT TO DO, THEY CAN TAKE THEM TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM AND THEY WOULD BE GUIDED TO THE RIGHT CONNECTION, THE SUPPORTING TREATMENT THEY NEED. SO THERE'S A LOT OF -- WE HAVE A LOT OF GREAT PROGRAMS IN SAN DIEGO. THE CONTINUUM OF CARE THAT IS OUT HERE IS EXTENSIVE. SO THERE IS NO REAL REASON WHY INDIVIDUALS SHOULD GET THE HELP THEY NEED. BUT LIKE I SAID, SAN DIEGO HAS BEEN A LEADER IN PROVIDING A CONTINUUM THAT IS ROBUST. FINALLY, IF SOMEONE IS INTERESTED, HOW THE SOMEONE SIGN UP FOR ONE OF THESE MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID CLASSES ? I WAS HOPING YOU WOULD ASK THAT QUESTION, MURRAY. [ LAUGHTER ] WE HAVE A COUPLE OF WAYS I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH THE AUDIENCE A YOU CAN ACTUALLY CALL THE OFFICE. THE NUMBER IS 619, 543-0412. AND WE CROSS THE SCHEDULE BEING SENT TO YOU AND YOU CAN COORDINATE THE CAL MARSON, YOU CAN EMAIL HER, THERE ARE MARSON AT THERE ARE MARSON@MHASTE.ORG. WE WOULD BE HAPPY TO RESPOND AND WE WILL HAVE CLASSES THROUGHOUT SAN DIEGO. AS WELL AS IN THE OFFICE. WE HAVE TRAINED 300 PEOPLE ALREADY AND WE ARE GOING FURTHER. IF YOU DIDN'T GET A CHANCE TO JOT THAT NOW WE WILL HAVE THAT INFORMATION ON OUR WEBSITE AT KPBS.ORG. I'VE BEEN SPEAKING WITH DAPHYNE WATSON AND KURT CUNNINGHAM. THANK YOU SO MUCH BOTH OF YOU. THANK YOU, MARINE.
San Diego County 's 24-Hour Access and Crisis Line
(800) 479-3339 or (888) 724-7240
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 237-TALK (8255)
Mental Health First Aid teaches a five-step action plan, ALGEE, to support someone developing signs and symptoms of a mental illness or in an emotional crisis. They are:
A - Assess for risk of suicide or harm
L - Listen non-judgmentally
G - Give reassurance and information
E - Encourage appropriate professional help
E - Encourage self-help and other support strategies
By The Numbers
According to national data, one in four people in a given year are diagnosed with a mental illness. That adds up to more than 600,000 people in San Diego County based on Census figures.
In San Diego County, one in five or nearly 150,000 children are diagnosed with a mental illness each year.
Four percent of adults and seven percent of children have severe mental illness.
In fiscal year 2013-2014, more than 5,500 adults and more than 800 children were hospitalized at San Diego County Psychiatric Hospital and County Medi-Cal-contracted facilities.
Source: San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency
In November 2012, Kurt Cunningham was suffering from depression and anxiety. It was so severe that he didn't leave his house at times. He spent months trying to figure out how to kill himself.
Once a successful business owner, his life changed dramatically for the worse over a short period of time and he was in poor health. Then his mother died. After what he describes as a fun-filled evening with friends, he went forward with his plan to kill himself.
Cunningham said while there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues, he became comfortable talking about his own out of necessity.
Cunningham, who is now an outreach coordinator for Mental Health America of San Diego County, now uses his knowledge from the training to help others including a friend who now receives support from the San Diego LGBT Community Center.
"I was thirsty for more information," Cunningham said. "The training was heaven for me."
San Diego County is now making Mental Health First Aid classes free for residents. The training is aimed at giving people the skills to intervene and give some initial help to people struggling with a mental health crisis. The classes are being conducted by Mental Health America San Diego County.
According to the San Diego County Suicide Prevention Council, 441 people took their own lives in San Diego County in 2013. According to national data, one in four people in a given year are diagnosed with a mental illness. A county spokesman said that adds up to more than 600,000 people in San Diego County based on Census figures.
A County Mental Health Services Act grant is making it possible for Mental Health America to offer its First Aid training to anyone in San Diego free of charge for the next five years.
For more information about the training, go here.