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Community members gather at Locust Presbyterian Church to learn about Mental Health First Aid.

Church rethinks first aid

If someone wants to learn how to do CPR, it’s not hard to find a class. In fact, that training is required for many individuals. But what if someone wants to learn how to help with depression? Or anxiety? Or substance abuse?

“We take this part up here (the brain) and act like it’s not a part of the body, but it is,” said Laura Emery, a mental health training coordinator with Atrium Health. “And sometimes it needs first aid, too.”

So in order to help their community know how to respond to conditions of the mind as well as the the rest of the body, the Locust Presbyterian Women’s Group invited Emery and her program director Pam Hurley to teach a Mental Health First Aid Class. The first session was late last month. The second will be 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

Together, the combined eight-hour training gives non-healthcare professionals a complete set of tools to help with mental conditions such as psychosis, post-traumatic stress or drug addictions.

And while those tools will not cure underlying mental health issues, like CPR they may keep someone afloat long enough to seek professional help.

“And that’s something you may need any day,” Emery said.

According to statistics presented at the training, nearly 41 percent of people facing mental health disorders never seek professional help. The only folks with a chance to notice and address their condition are average community members.

“Most of you are in very public facing positions,” said Emery to the group of Stanly ministers, customer service employees, government workers and parents who came to the training. “You probably see people struggling with this on a regular basis.”

Unfortunately, in public is the last place people want to talk about such conditions.

During one of the training exercises, participants pointed out that medical conditions like cancer or heart disease often elicit cards and balloons and 5K fundraisers from the community. But mental health disorders come with little fanfare.

“There’s a huge stigma around mental health issues,” said Greta Baucom, part of the women’s group hosting the Mental Health First Aid training.

As an Atrium Health employee, Baucom had heard about such training through her job. And since both she and several members of Locust Presbyterian’s newly formed women’s group knew folks struggling with mental health issues, she proposed the training as one of their first projects.

“Our women’s group wanted to do something for the community,” Baucom said. “And I think this is something every community needs.”

Emery and Hurley agreed. Their organization  — Faith Community Health Ministry — has worked with Atrium for 20 years, the last four helping with the Mental Health First Aid initiative.

“In those four years, about 14,000 have been trained,” Hurley said. “It’s amazing to see the impact that’s already had.”

Any organization or business that is interested in hosting a class can also do so. As with Locust Presbyterian, the eight-hour course is often split into multiple classes. Those who attend all eight hours can earn a certification in mental health first aid.

“Like any other medical condition, there is something that can be done,” Emery said. “We just want to help people know what to do.”

To find out more about Locust Presbyterian’s Mental Health First Aide training session, contact Baucom at 704-652-1371. To find out more about hosting a training, contact Emery at laura.emery@atriumhealth.org.