What Would You Do? Could You Make a Difference?
Mental Health First Aid

By Karl Shallowhorn

Ever see the popular tv show What Would You Do?Each episode presents a scenario in which bystanders witness an event without realizing they are being filmed. How the bystanders react is revealing. Most of us who have watched are always encouraged by the good feeling we get when people truly can help others in need, instead of ignoring them.

Now imagine you’re in the food court of a local mall taking a break from your shopping. You look over to the next table, see a young nervously shaking and hyperventilating, and realize that she is experiencing an extreme medical event. What would you do?

I use the food court example when I teach Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), an eight-hour class that helps the average citizen like you know what to do in a similar situation. MHFA helps people to identify signs and symptoms of mental illness, to understand a bit about mental health, and reduce the stigma associated with mental health disorders, while possibly providing aid to a person in need.

MHFA originated in Australia in 2001 and was brought to the U.S. by the National Council for Behavioral Health in 2008. Today, 1.5 million people in the U.S. are trained in this interactive curriculum that utilizes group exercises, videos, role-play and lecture-style tools to provide insight into anxiety, depression, psychosis (including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, suicide and substance use disorders). The course also includes instruction on a five-step action plan that makes it easy for course participants to remember what to do in these situations.

The MFHA course has developed a version for youth, veterans, public safety personnel, first responders, older adults, higher education, and those who speak Spanish. What MHFA does not teach participants is how to diagnose mental health or substance use disorders. It is simply an intervention that can help get people in distress to the appropriate level of care, with your help.

I have over 17 years of experience working in the mental health and addiction fields as a clinician, advocate and educator. I became a MHFA Instructor in 2014 and since then, have conducted over 70 courses to over 1000 individuals. I have taught MHFA to community based-organizations, mental health professionals, medical staff, attorneys, members of the judiciary and law enforcement, teachers, clergy, and lay leaders, to name a few.

So, what would you do? Find out more about how you can be prepared to respond to someone in need of mental health intervention and learn about mental health conditions, in general, by taking an MHFA course at no cost to you. You just may be that hero you applauded in that popular tv show that makes a difference in someone’s life and the life of their family.

The Community Health Center of Buffalo received a federal grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration to provide MHFA training for free to community members and organizations. For more information call Karl Shallowhorn at 716-986-9199 ext. 4350 or email kshallowhorn@chcb.net.