In cooperation with the National Council for Behavioral Health, pharmacy giant Walgreens has just completed its initial phase of Mental Health First Aid training. This endeavor was announced last May as a part of Mental Health Month. This education has been provided to all of the company’s health outcomes pharmacists, who are now trained to identify signs of addiction and help those in crisis. Walgreens plans to make this specialized training available throughout the industry.
What is Mental Health First Aid?
Just as CPR helps you to assist a person having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid teaches you to help someone experiencing a substance use or mental health-related crisis.
Mental Health First Aid trains pharmacists and other medical professionals to spot risk factors and warning signs for addiction and mental health concerns. It also equips trainees to help people in crisis situations. By educating pharmacists in mental health literacy, companies hope that treatment will improve and meet the growing needs of communities impacted by COVID-19.
“With the prevalence and rise of incidents of depression and addiction…. Specialized training can be key to identifying warning signs and working with other providers, even finding gaps in care or treatment,” said Rina Shah, PharmD, the company’s group vice president of specialty and retail pharmacy operations.
What Do Trainees Learn?
Mental Health First Aid isn’t just limited to pharmacists; there are different trainings available for emergency responders, public safety officers and those who work in higher education. Civilians of all ages can also receive a certification in Mental Health First Aid.
The action plan for those in Mental Health First Aid courses includes learning to assess for risk of suicide or harm, listen nonjudgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage suitable professional help and provide self-help/support strategies. Individuals are given strategies to appropriately intervene when someone is experiencing a panic attack, suicidal thoughts, self-injury, acute psychosis (hallucinations or delusions), overdose, withdrawal or a traumatic event.
Topics covered in Mental Health First Aid trainings include:
- Depression and mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance use disorders
Practice Mental Health First Aid
In response to COVID-19, these trainings will soon be made available online. If you’d like to practice some of the key strategies from Mental Health First Aid, we’ve compiled some of them below.
Assess for risk of suicide and harm. When helping someone who is going through a mental health crisis, it’s vital to determine whether they intend to hurt themselves. Look for signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, including self-injury, threats to kill oneself, talking about death and dying, feelings of hopelessness, dramatic mood swings and increased substance use. Always seek emergency assistance if these signs are present.
Listen nonjudgmentally. This may seem obvious, but it takes practice to be a good, nonjudgmental listener in a crisis. Practice open body posture, maintaining eye contact and other nonverbal cues to help the other party feel respected and understood.
Give reassurance and information. Approach each conversation with respect and don’t blame the other person for their symptoms. It’s important to know that mental illness and addiction are diagnosable disorders from which people can and do recover. Reassure the other person that help is available, and that you will work with them to access it if needed.
Encourage appropriate professional help. Doctors, social workers, sponsors and mental health professionals can be indispensable to someone in crisis. When possible, direct the other party to these resources to begin healing as soon as possible.
Encourage self-help and other support services. Taking care of one’s self can go a long way toward improving the symptoms of a mental illness. People with a diagnosable disorder may see benefits from exercising, practicing meditation, participating in peer support groups or staying connected with others. Make a list of self-help options that work for you and have it ready for these conversations.
By being prepared and practicing Mental Health First Aid, it’s possible that you could step in, comfort someone and encourage them to seek help during a crisis.
Mental Health Services at Cumberland Heights
At Cumberland Heights, we offer treatment for those who are dealing with co-occurring conditions: addiction and mental illness. If you or someone you love could benefit from comprehensive, evidence-based treatment, we encourage you to contact us today.