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Increasing awareness and advocacy of emotional disorders with mental health first-aid programs

Nearly 1 in 5 Californians suffer from mental health conditions and, overall, women are nearly twice as likely as men to say they need help for emotional health conditions such as depression or anxiety, according to a study completed last year by UC Los Angeles researchers. Many more individuals may not even be aware they have an emotional disorder requiring medical attention.

An NPR story today features one such patient, 20-year-old Sacramento resident Nikki Perez, and discusses how first-aid classes focused on identifying mental illness could assist in making sure those that need help get it before reaching a crisis point.

The story describes how Perez's life was turned upside down after being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and how she enrolled in a course called Mental Health First Aid to learn more about how she could help others like herself. The class is operated by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health. In addition to equipping graduates of the class with the necessary skills to identify different types of mental health illnesses, the program offers the potential to educate the public and, hopefully, make people feel more comfortable in seeking help:

Longtime mental health advocates with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, say courses like this raise awareness about mental illness. Jessica Cruz, executive director of NAMI California, said this reduces the stigma around getting help.

"If people know that others are trained in how to deal with a crisis situation, they may even reach out for help before they even get to that crisis point," she said.

Cruz is so impressed with the course, her own staff is going to be trained next month.

"It seems like it could be just universally applied, just like CPR," Cruz said.

That's already under way at schools, the workplace and churches. Since it started three years ago, more than 30,000 people have been trained around the country; another 20,000 are expected to get training by the end of the year.

Today commemorates World Mental Health Day, and to mark the occasion Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon urged health officials worldwide to invest more resources in the treatment of mental health disorders.

Previously: A call to “legislate the good life”, KQED health program explores mental health in California, Some 4.9 million Californians need help for mental health and Why are women more likely to need mental-health help?
Photo by Joe Penna

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