With the 9 Health Fairs in the San Luis Valley over for another year, we’ve all become more aware of the significance of preventive medicine. Blood tests, bone density tests, immunizations, mammograms and other exams give us advance warning of possible health issues and, as we’ve been told, early treatment is often the key to survival. This is also true with mental health, and there is now a new statewide effort to combine public and private partnerships to train people to recognize emotional crises. The Mental Health First Aid training has been designed to help protect people from serious mental health issues in an increasingly stressed-out world.

Usually given a very low national rank for mental health care funding, Colorado’s Mental First Aid program already has 136 instructors – more per capita than anywhere else in the United States – and they have trained more than 3,000 others across the state, including people in law enforcement fire departments, community corrections and community centers. Initiated in 2008, this program is now a national leader, having just won the 2012 Best Community Impact Award from Mental Health First Aid USA.

“We hope that as you see people getting their first-aid classes in how to bandage an arm or take care of a burn, they will also receive training in how to impact someone who has a mental health or substance abuse problem, “said George Del Grosso, executive director of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council.

Peggy Eakin, a trained instructor of Mental First Aid at the SLV Mental Health Center, has taught classes to law enforcement professionals, college students and health professionals in the Valley. “These are tools that can be used on a daily basis,” Eakin said. Renee Gallegos and Ron Rogers at the Mental Health Center are also trained to teach the Mental First Aid classes and two additional staff will complete instructor training this summer.

The consumer training is a 12 hour class that teaches people how to provide initial help to someone developing a mental-health problem or experiencing an emotional crisis. Students learn warning signs, how to listen without judgment and a five-step action plan to connect people in crisis to local support systems

“The reality is that all of us need help at some time,” said State Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, a program supporter. “We live in such a challenging world where there are stresses of almost historical proportions and where there are issues of grief and loss that individuals confront on almost a daily basis.”

Summers concluded, “If we’re able to elevate the awareness that these issues are just part of the ups-and-downs of life, just like our physical health is, then hopefully we’ll be more proactive in seeking help.”
For information about the Mental Health First Aid program and training, contact Peggy Eakin, Renee Gallegos or Ron Rogers at 589-3671.