"My hope is that more people take this class. It could be life-saving."

Karrey Britt is an advocate for Mental Health First Aid training.

Karrey Britt is an advocate for Mental Health First Aid training. by Jeff Burkhead

Mental Health First Aid is life-changing and can be life-saving.

I took the course at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center five years ago when I was a health reporter for a television station and newspaper. I wanted to be better educated about mental health because I interviewed people who suffered mental disorders, attempted suicide, and had lost loved ones who died by suicide. I wanted to make sure I was asking the right questions and sending the appropriate messages through my stories.

Additionally, I took the class to help friends, family and colleagues. I personally knew of loved ones who had depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders. I was one of them. As a teenager, I suffered from anorexia.

The truth is 1 in 4 adults suffer from a mental illness in a given year. The good news is these illnesses are as treatable as a physical illness. We just need to be more educated about them and we need to talk about them.

That’s where Mental Health Aid First Aid comes in. It’s a class that can help anyone — whether you are a reporter, pastor, police officer, wife, son, friend or stranger. It gives you the skills to help someone who may be developing a mental illness or experiencing a mental health crisis. You learn the risk factors and warning signs for mental illnesses, strategies for how to help someone, and where to turn for help.

Like other first aid classes, there is a mnemonic — or memory device — for the action plan. It’s ALGEE:

Assess for risk of suicide or harm.

Listen non-judgmentally.

Give reassurance and information.

Encourage appropriate professional help.

Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

The class had a profound effect on me professionally in the field of communications and personally.  One aspect of the class that I will never forget is how to help someone who is at risk for suicide. I learned that if I suspect someone may be at risk of suicide, it is important to directly ask about suicidal thoughts. For example, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” The instructors emphasized to ask the question without dread or without expressing negative judgment. If the answer is “yes,” then ask if there’s a plan. If he or she has a plan, then seek professional help.

At 8:05 p.m. on Sept. 23, 2015, I received a text message that my younger brother was missing. The next 24 hours were like a horrific nightmare as I learned he had been suffering from depression and he had talked about suicide. Then, I received the phone call that I had been dreading. Looking back, I believe Mental Health First Aid helped me cope with the situation as it unraveled and enabled me to help family and loved ones in a time of crisis. 

My brother was 34 years old, married, had earned a doctorate in fine arts, and had two sons, ages 2 years and 5 months. Four days before his death, we had attended a college football game together. We laughed, joked and gave each other high-fives. I had no idea at the time that he was suffering from depression.

Later, I learned he had not only talked about suicide but also his plan — it just wasn’t with me. I wish with all my heart that he had said something to me.

My hope is that more people take this class. It could be life-saving.

— For information about Mental Health First Aid classes, visit the Events section at bertnash.org.

Karrey Britt and her younger brother.

Karrey Britt and her younger brother. by Jeff Burkhead

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