Weaving Mental Health First Aid Into Workplace Wellness

Every month Anne LaFleur sends employees in her office a quiz about various wellness topics. When the topic was depression, she received twice as many responses as usual from co-workers.

When LaFleur, vice president of human resources at a credit union in Pawtucket, RI, took a Mental Health First Aid course in February, she quickly understood the reason for the high level of interest in these types of issues. The training also helped her identify people in her office who may be suffering a mental health problem and taught her how to provide help and refer people to self-help and professional resources.

“The training made me realize that mental health issues are very common, yet one of the least talked about problems,” LaFleur says.

More than one in four people suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem in any given year. Mental illness likely costs businesses more than $79 billion a year, $63 billion of it in lost productivity. The statistics point to the significant need to incorporate mental health into burgeoning employee wellness programs, which have received a shot in the arm with the passage of federal healthcare reform legislation.

Mental Health First Aid has proved to be an ideal program to promote improved mental health in workplaces across the country.

LaFleur is one of more than 6,000 people certified in Mental Health First Aid since the training was introduced in the United States two years ago by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare along with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Those who participate in the 12-hour Mental Health First Aid course learn a five-step process to assess a situation, select and implement appropriate interventions and help a person developing signs and symptoms of mental illness or in crisis receive appropriate care. Participants also learn about the risk factors and warning signs of specific illnesses such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, and addiction.

Evaluations show that the evidence-based Mental Health First Aid program saves lives, expands people’s knowledge of mental illnesses and their treatments, and reduces the stigma associated with mental illness by helping people understand and accept mental illness as a medical condition. One trial of 301 randomized participants found that those who took the training had greater confidence in providing help to others, greater likelihood of advising people to seek professional help, and decreased stigmatizing attitudes.

Unexpectedly, the study also found that Mental Health First Aid improved the mental well-being of the participants themselves.

“By understanding the signs and symptoms of depression, I learned to recognize this in myself,” says Kellie-Ann Heenan, director of human resources at a company in Lincoln, RI.

Heenan, who had the training in February, has an adopted son from Russia who suffers from a number of emotional issues.

“The tools I learned made it easier to connect with him and better understand where he’s coming from,” she says. “In the end, the training improved my own mental health.”

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GIRL POWER! Is Good Mental Health

GIRL POWER! is paving the way for girls to build confidence, competence, and pride in themselves, in other words, enhancing girls’ mental wellness. Girl Power! is also providing messages and materials to girls about the risks and consequences associated with substance abuse and with potential mental health concerns. For instance, did you know:

Girls are seven times more likely than boys to be depressed and twice as likely to attempt suicide.*

Girls are three times more likely than boys to have a negative body image (often reflected in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia).*

One in five girls in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 17 drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.*

Girls who develop positive interpersonal and social skills decrease their risk of substance abuse.*

Girls who have an interest and ability in areas such as academics, the arts, sports, and community activities are more likely to develop confidence and may be less likely to use drugs.*

On the other hand, this also is a time when girls may make decisions to try risky behaviors, including drinking, smoking, and using drugs.*

The Girl Power! Campaign, under the leadership of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is collaborating with the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) to provide this valuable mental health information.

* Girl Power! Hometown Media Kit, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 1997.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Results from a study of nearly 6,000 people aged 15 to 24 show that among young people with a history of both a mental disorder and an addictive disorder, the mental disorder is usually reported to have occurred first. The onset of mental health problems may occur about 5 to 10 years before the substance abuse disorders.**

This provides a “window of opportunity” for targeted substance abuse prevention interventions and needed mental health services.

** “National Comorbidity Survey,” Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D., et al., American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, June 1996.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is how we think, feel, and act in order to face life’s situations. It is how we look at ourselves, our lives, and the people we know and care about. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, evaluate our options, and make choices. Everyone has mental health.

A young girl’s mental health affects her daily life and future. Schoolwork, relationships, and physical health can be affected by mental health. Like physical health, mental health is important at every stage of life. Caring for and protecting a child’s mental health is a major part of helping that child grow to become the best she can be.

Girls’ independence is usually encouraged in childhood, and their strengths nurtured. Most girls become emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy young adults. But sometimes, during the transition from childhood to adolescence, extra care is necessary, so that a girl’s self-esteem and coping skills are not diminished. For more information on teen mental health, call 1-800-789-2647 and ask for the brochure: “You and Mental Health: What’s the Deal?” (Order # CA-0002)

Nurturing Your Child’s Mental Health

Parents and other caregivers are responsible for children’s physical safety and emotional well-being. Parenting styles vary; there is no one right way to raise a child. Clear and consistent expectations for each child, by all caregivers, are important. Many good books are available in libraries or at bookstores on child development, constructive problem-solving, discipline styles, and other parenting skills. The following suggestions are not meant to be complete.

Do your best to provide a safe home and community for your child, as well as nutritious meals, regular health check-ups, immunizations, and exercise.

Be aware of stages in child development so you don’t expect too much or too little from your child.

Encourage your child to express her feelings; respect those feelings. Let your child know that everyone experiences pain, fear, anger, and anxiety.

Try to learn the source of these feelings. Help your child express anger positively, without resorting to violence.

Promote mutual respect and trust. Keep your voice level down–even when you don’t agree. Keep communication channels open.

Listen to your child. Use words and examples your child can understand. Encourage questions.

Provide comfort and assurance. Be honest. Focus on the positives. Express your willingness to talk about any subject.

Look at your own problem-solving and coping skills. Do you turn to alcohol or drugs? Are you setting a good example? Seek help if you are overwhelmed by your child’s feelings or behaviors or if you are unable to control your own frustration or anger.

Encourage your child’s talents and accept limitations.

Set goals based on the child’s abilities and interests–not someone else’s expectations. Celebrate accomplishments. Don’t compare your child’s abilities to those of other children; appreciate the uniqueness of your child. Spend time regularly with your child.

Foster your child’s independence and self-worth.

Help your child deal with life’s ups and downs. Show confidence in your child’s ability to handle problems and tackle new experiences.

Discipline constructively, fairly, and consistently. (Discipline is a form of teaching, not physical punishment.) All children and families are different; learn what is effective for your child. Show approval for positive behaviors. Help your child learn from her mistakes.

Love unconditionally. Teach the value of apologies, cooperation, patience, forgiveness, and consideration for others. Do not expect to be perfect; parenting is a difficult job. Many good books are available in libraries or at bookstores on child development, constructive problem-solving, discipline styles, and other parenting skills.
Mental Health Problems Many children experience mental health problems that are real and painful and can be severe.

Mental health problems affect at least one in every five young people, at any given time. At least 1 in 10 children may have a serious emotional disturbance that severely disrupts his or her ability to function.

Tragically an estimated two-thirds of all young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need. Mental health problems can lead to school failure, alcohol or other drug abuse, family discord, violence, or even suicide.

A variety of signs may point to a possible mental health problem in a child or teenager. If you are concerned about a child or have any questions, seek help immediately. Talk to your doctor, a school counselor, or other mental health professionals who are trained to assess whether your child has a mental health problem. For a list of warning signs, call 1-800-789-2647 and ask for the brochure “Your Child’s Mental Health: What Every Family Should Know. (Order # CA-0001)

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