At its most basic level, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a way for people to break through the quite normal hesitation to ask a friend or family member if they are struggling. Watching someone you care about struggle with an unseen issue can be painful not only for their struggle, but also for loved ones desiring to help, but not knowing how to start.
MHFA training provides the tools to recognize a potential mental health injury before it reaches the crisis stage or manifests by destructive and dangerous behaviors. It provides guidance on where to seek help and insight on the limitations of concerned MHFA responders and family members. Knowing when to simply be the concerned person that says, “I see you are struggling and I care, but I am not equipped to provide what you need. Let me help you find that assistance, and I’ll stay with you through this process” can be just as important to a person in need as the professional help they may eventually receive.
How does this impact veterans and their families? Most IAVA members realize the organization has taken on the issue of suicide among not just Post 9/11 veterans, but all veterans. When more than 40% of an organization states they have been impacted by suicide in one way or another, it is time to look at how they got here. There are all sorts of reasons we could say contribute to this tragedy, but concerned friends and family members not knowing how to help is part of it. The day long MHFA class, hosted by IAVA, provides insight to early recognition and intervention that can help those we care about.
Many of us have struggled in our own way after returning home from Iraq and / or Afghanistan. Often we find our way through a dark period on our own, but are oblivious to how we impacted our families and friends during that time. Think about how things may have been different if a friend or family member knew how to not only recognize you were struggling, but also know how to approach you during that time. Maybe that dark time would not have been as long, and maybe the impact it had on our relationships would have been different.
During the class I recently attended, the realization that the most important crisis or mental health injury is the one in front of you struck me in a profound way. We never know when we might spot warning signs in a friend or family member. Hopefully we can see these signs and respond with empathy and without the stigma that often accompanies a mental health injury. MHFA training strives to eliminate the stigma so we can constructively ask the questions that can assist a person in need.
I encourage anyone who shares these concerns to take the Mental Health First Aid course whenever it is offered near you. The knowledge obtained during eight hours of instruction is critical information that has the potential to save someone’s life. You can be the person that is able to ask the hard questions before a friend or loved one reaches a crisis stage. I believe it has the potential to positively impact our community in such profound ways that I was one of several IAVA members that have become certified to teach the class. I hope to see some of you at a MHFA class soon.