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It is possible to plan for some emergencies, equipping yourself with information and training to make a difference. Learning CPR is one example – Mental Health First Aid is another. It gives trainees a framework for recognizing a mental health crisis and providing resources that can make a difference. And yes, that can also save lives, just like CPR.

Robyn Ellison teaches the course through Prisma Health-Upstate. The 8-hour program helps participants serve as a first line of support for someone experiencing problems such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders. 

“Mental Health First Aid is CPR for mental health,” Ellison said. “The intention is not to become an expert but to help someone. In CPR, you’re not going to do heart surgery, but you are given the skills to help in that moment and the resources to help them know where to go.”

The training is also available with modules targeted to specific populations, including youth, older adults, veterans, higher education, first responders and more. 

The isolation and stress of recent months has exacerbated an already serious nationwide mental health crisis and may result in post-traumatic stress disorders in some. Ellison said it is estimated that one out of every three people currently suffer from depression and anxiety. Substance use disorders are also made worse by being separated from others.

“People rely on that face-to-face accountability and support,” Ellison said. 

But everyone needs social connection. Without it, there will be an increased need for helpers who understand the signs and symptoms of mental illness and where to go to get help.

“If you are not mentally supported and you are not taking care of your mental health, it impacts your entire being from your head to your toes – physically, emotionally, spiritually,” Ellison said. 

Teenagers can be especially vulnerable. Ellison said teens having the highest rate of suicide. Most types of mental illness begin in youth. Ellison said the median age of onset for anxiety is 11 years old. For bipolar disorder, it is 25, but it can be as young as age 15. 

“There are a ton of kids that aren’t diagnosed,” Ellison said. “The stigma is there. We don’t talk about it. We teach everything but mental health in school. They go into adulthood thinking this is just who I am. That should not be so. We’re doing a real disservice to kids because we don’t teach them how their brain works. You’re not broken. Your brain works differently.”

Ellison has taught Mental Health First Aid to high school students and she is currently working on curriculum for a class that will be taught at Easley High School this year. 

If mental health is impeding the ability to live, laugh, love and learn, help is needed. And it is available. Learning Mental Health First Aid puts people in a position to recognize a potential problem and offer help. 

To learn more about taking Mental Health First Aid in person or through a virtual class, contact Robyn Ellison at Robyn.Ellison@prismahealth.org. 

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