Saving Lives Through Mental Health First Aid

December 23, 2020
Mental Health First Aid

When Ashleigh Phillips, Provider Outreach and Community Relations Coordinator at Porter Adventist Hospital, stopped to deliver a pair of compression socks to a neighbor, she never dreamed those socks might save his life.

He had been struggling with a chronic illness that made many daily tasks difficult, and she thought the socks might help ease his pain a bit. But when he expressed how grateful he was for the socks, and for her thoughtfulness, his demeanor prompted Ashleigh to dig a little deeper.

Employing techniques she had learned through Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training, Ashleigh was able to forge a connection with her neighbor through simple conversation, and within a few minutes he confided in her, admitting that he had been feeling hopeless. He had been considering ending his life, he told her, and had enough pills on hand to do so.

“A lot of people ask how you’re doing and then go on about their day,” Ashleigh said. “But MHFA taught me to truly listen and ask the questions that matter, really hearing what the person I’m talking to has to say, and if they are in emotional distress, staying with them and connecting them with help.”

With Ashleigh’s continued support, her neighbor opened up to his wife about his struggles and a tragedy was averted.

While struggles with mental health can be difficult to talk about, suicide and other mental health diagnoses are common in Colorado and Kansas and have been identified by all 17 Centura hospitals as the most pressing health need in our communities. We recognize that the brain is as important to whole person health as the heart, lungs or bones, and we understand how important it is to talk about mental health. Because we are all in this together, Centura Health is working to better address these needs in every community we serve.

“Mental Health First Aid parallels our three-point behavioral health strategy, which is focused on moving upstream, improving access and care coordination,” said Doug Muir, who stepped into the newly-created system wide role of Service Line Director for Behavioral Health just two months ago. “MHFA supports stigma reduction, early detection and right time support; it provides information on how to access different levels of care appropriate to the situation; and it advances a growing network of trained individuals.”

One way Centura Health works to improve the mental wellness of our communities is by offering MHFA trainings to the public free of charge. These trainings, some of which are further targeted to teach how to assist specific populations such as youth or the elderly, teach participants to identify risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help. Just as CPR helps you assist an individual having a heart attack until first responders arrive, MHFA helps you know how to assist someone experiencing a mental health or substance-use related problem, assess their needs and appropriately connect them with help.

“MHFA training very much aligns with the Mission of Centura Health, in that it guides community members to intervene with another who is struggling, and to do so in a supportive and helpful way,” said Adena Kling, Manager of Case Management and Crisis Assessment at Longmont United Hospital. “Many people are uncomfortable responding or intervening when they witness someone experiencing a mental health emergency, but MHFA training offers tools and builds the confidence necessary to take action that can ultimately save lives.”

Ashleigh, who oversees MHFA training for the Greater Denver Operating Group, emphasizes that de-stigmatizing mental illness is also an important element of MFHA.

“When someone has a stomach ache and fever, we suggest going to the doctor,” Ashleigh said. “We need to help people understand that mental illness is just as much an illness as the flu or cancer, and feel comfortable recommending seeing a doctor when someone is not feeling emotionally well.”

Recovery and resiliency are important themes in MHFA training, as the program emphasizes that individuals experiencing these challenges can and do get better and can use their strengths to stay well. Centura Health also offers certification courses for MHFA instructors, multiplying the reach of these trainings. Participants come from a wide range of backgrounds and professions, including health care professionals, teachers, school staff, veterans and members of the clergy.

Monica Buhlig, Group Director of Community Health and responsible for overseeing Centura Health’s use of best practices to support mental health in our communities, sees MHFA as a true extension of the healing ministry of Christ. “It takes a community supportive of whole person well-being to address mental health in a way that makes people feel connected and loved,” Monica said. “We are creating a system of support that extends to everyone in our communities, regardless of mental health status.”

Interested in completing MHFA training? Find and register for MHFA training classes near you.

Colorado Crisis Services
If you don’t know where to begin, getting help with a mental health, substance use or emotional concern for yourself or someone you know – start by calling or texting for confidential and immediate help, 24/7/365.

If you are in crisis or need help dealing with one, call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255 to speak to a trained professional at Colorado Crisis Services.

Let’s Talk Colorado
The goal of Let’s Talk Colorado is to initiate an inclusive conversation. All Coloradans benefit when we learn about mental health and how to talk about it so that those of us who need treatment are more likely to seek it.

Centura Profile EAP
Centura Profile EAP provides employee assistance from counseling to substance use; finding childcare to eldercare resources; and, finding financial to legal support.