Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

South Coast Residents Take Course To Become Certified In Mental Health First Aid

When you think about first aid training, you probably think about CPR and using those skills to help someone suffering from a cardiac emergency. But that’s not the only first aid training that helps save lives. You can become certified in mental health first aid on the South Coast.

Leticia Yanez shook with anxiety as she pretended to have a panic attack. Her instructor and classmates tried to calm her down. Yanez said she actually felt anxiety even though she was just role-playing.

“The re-assurance that I got and all the questions that were asked. By the end of the exercise, my anxiety level had dropped. I felt calm,” she said.

Yanez and 17 other people took this free eight-hour mental health first aid training at the Ventura Police Department that’s funded by Ventura County Behavioral Health. The course taught these students how to help someone developing a mental health problem or at risk of suicide or harm.

Yanez, who works at a psychiatric hospital, said this training will help her interact with patients.

“I think it would be very helpful to understand their symptoms, giving them better care,” she said.

Mental Health First Aid Trainer Mary Ann Diaz said she teaches the students how to be supportive to someone in distress.

“So, somebody may be going through a crisis or it may just be someone in your family having a problem. And people just don’t know how to approach, what to say or what to do in that case. So this is a training that’s very practical and can help anybody,” she said.

The course covers depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance abuse disorders. Participants learn how to spot risk factors and warning signs of mental illnesses and how they can help with a five-step action plan.

“How to approach or assess for risk of suicide or harm, then listen non-judgementally, giving reassurance and information, encouraging appropriate professional help and encouraging self-help and other support strategies,” said Diaz.

Mary Ellen Collins who co-teaches this training said she hopes her students understand more about mental illness.

“It is treatable, and there is hope. And sometimes hope is the only thing we can offer somebody,” she said.

One of the students, Rashad Rahman, is a paramedic and 911 dispatcher.

“I hope to be able to talk to people who are in some kind of mental health crisis better and just hope to assist them better, to find resources and hopefully to get to a better place,” he said.

Jorge Sotelo, a navy veteran, said he took the training, in part, for self-help.

“I myself have issues for one, so I wanted to know more about my condition and how I can better cope,” he said.

At the end of the two-day class, these adult students become certified mental health first aiders. While they don’t take the role of professionals, Collins said they will be prepared to interact with someone in crisis and connect that person with help.

“I believe wholeheartedly that one act of kindness can diffuse somebody a lot of the time. If people walk away with nothing else, I hope they walk away with that,” she said.