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In a mental health crisis, wanting to help isn't enough

In a Mental Health Crisis, Simply Wanting to Help Isn’t Enough

Success doesn't come to you. You go to it.

Ethan Call, a college student, was worried when he noticed that his friend — who normally attended church every Sunday — didn’t show up to teach Sunday School that day.

He knew she had been struggling with depression and anxiety. So, he texted her and asked if she was okay.

She wasn’t.

Gwen Cubit, a mother from Texas, was worried when her son texted her from Maryland asking her to call him. He said it was urgent.

She picked up the phone and found him in the throes of an emotional crisis — he wasn’t sure if he wanted to kill himself or someone else.

Think about the last time you worried about a friend, a family member or a neighbor.

Many of us can sense when something isn’t quite right, but the fear of being intrusive, overstepping our bounds or saying the wrong thing can prevent us from acting.

So, far too often, we do nothing to help.

Ethan and Gwen Knew What To Do

Luckily, Ethan and Gwen knew exactly what to do. They had both recently been trained in Mental Health First Aid where they learned how to recognize when someone might be experiencing a mental health or substance use problem, and mastered an action plan to help.

Noticing the red flag, Ethan left church and drove to his friend’s house. Immediately, the Mental Health First Aid action plan kicked in.

He sat with her and listened to her talk about her feelings — without judgment — over milk and cookies. He gave her information about where and how she could access professional help.

He encouraged her to turn to her friends, family and faith community for support. Now, Ethan’s friend is working with a counselor and doing much better.  She got help.

Gwen immediately recalled an important strategy from her Mental Health First Aid training: stay calm.

She kept her son talking, asked questions about what he was doing, where he was and where his family was.

She took his risk of suicide seriously and encouraged him to go to the hospital with his father-in-law, who lived in the area.

Her son agreed, and she stayed on the phone with him until she heard him check in with the administrative nurse at the ER. Her son was diagnosed with depression, and is doing much better today. He got help.

Each of these stories begins the same way: a person trained in Mental Health First Aid notices that something isn’t right. And each story ends with a person in distress getting the help they need.

But when people don’t know what they’re supposed to do when confronted with a difficult situation — when they don’t have an action plan for stepping in when someone is experiencing a mental health or substance use problem — the stories can end much differently.

How Mental Health First Aid Helps

Mental Health First Aid takes the fear and hesitation out of offering support to someone in an emotional crisis. It provides critical tools for helping people that can mean the difference between life and death.

Today, more than 550,000 Americans are trained in Mental Health First Aid. That’s 550,000 people who would know when and how to react to a person in crisis.

And Human Support Services is proud to be a partner in that progress. But in a nation of more than 318 million, 550,000 is not enough.

This month, we celebrate Mental Health Month. We recognize the incredible strides we’ve made in promoting understanding, increasing opportunities and improving the lives of people living with mental health and substance use problems.

Mental Health Month is an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come. But Mental Health Month is also an opportunity to acknowledge how much more work there is to do.

In January, the National Council for Behavioral Health launched the Be 1 in a Million campaign—a national effort to train one million people in Mental Health First Aid. Since the launch of the campaign, more than 50,000 new first aiders have been trained.

This Mental Health Month, we encourage everyone to become part of the Be 1 in a Million movement.

  • Get trained.
  • Spread the word.
  • Offer support to someone in need. Because — as Ethan, Gwen and so many like them know — recognizing how and when to step in and offer help can change, even save, a life.

Article adapted from the National Council for Behavioral Health.