Cumberland Times-News

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August 17, 2013

Allegany County Health Department offering class on mental health first aid

CUMBERLAND — A course on helping individuals facing a mental health crisis will be offered by the Allegany County Health Department. Maryland is one of the first states to adopt this program, which originated in Australia.

“Mental Health First Aid USA is managed, operated and disseminated by three national authorities — the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health,” according to the national organization’s website.

The course offers a new way of providing mental health resources to the community, organizers said.

The national program has a special interest in rural areas like Allegany County.

“Nearly 20 percent of people in the United States live in a rural area. The challenges faced by residents in rural areas are significantly different than those in urban areas. Rural populations are often under served and possess health and behavioral health disparities. Rural communities have a chronic shortage of behavioral health providers and limited access to services,” according to the website of Mental Health First Aid.

“Mental Health First Aid has the potential to address these disparities in rural communities by increasing mental health literacy (i.e., knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention) among key community members — creating a stronger, more prepared network of support for individuals living in rural areas,” the website reads.

And Allegany County citizens do have mental health issues.

A 2011 assessment found that during the first three quarters of fiscal year 2011, admissions for mental health issues rose to 8.01 percent at the Western Maryland Regional Medical Center.

That’s the fourth highest reason for admissions to the hospital, Nancy Forlifer, who reviewed the study for a local health task force, said last year.

Suicide rates in Allegany County were at 12.4 per 100,000 population, far above the state average of 9.3 percent and the target of 8.4 percent.

 The 12-hour course can benefit a number of different audiences and professionals, including primary care professionals, employers and business leaders, faith communities, school personnel and educators, state police and corrections officers, nursing home staff, mental health authorities, state policymakers, volunteers, young people, families and the general public, according to program officials.

The course provides training “just as CPR training helps a layperson with no clinical training assist an individual following a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid training helps a layperson assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis, such as contemplating suicide. In both situations, the goal is to help support an individual until appropriate professional help arrives,” according to the  website.

The course offers a certification to participants.

The course “presents an overview of mental illness and substance use disorders in the U.S. and introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds understanding of their impact, and overviews common treatments.

Those who take the 12-hour course to certify as Mental Health First Aiders learn a 5-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer, social and self-help care,” according to the website.

Local instructors for the course will be from the Mental Health System’s Office and the Western Correctional Institution.

The courses will be offered from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Willowbrook Office Complex in the ground floor conference room on Sept. 10, 12, 17 and 19. To register, call 240-964-8422. Staff from the Allegany County Health Department involved in the program were unavailable for comment Friday.

The national organization’s website is


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