eNewsletter - March 2018

Behavioral Health Partners

Mental Health First Aid for the Professional: Be the Difference
By: Denise Elsbree, LCSW

In my role as the Coordinator of the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program at Linden Oaks and as a licensed clinical social worker, I’m often asked why a behavioral health professional would want to take an 8 hour class that does not teach any “new clinical skills”.  Aside from the value of receiving 8.0 CEU’s for only $50, MHFA also adds considerable value to what we do as behavioral health professionals.

When I answer this question, I like to relate it to medical training.  Just as medical professionals benefit from being certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and First Aid yearly, likewise, behavioral health professional’s benefit from a certification in MHFA.

In the same way that, CPR does not teach a participant the principals of diagnosing a heart condition, MHFA does not teach attendees to diagnosis behavioral health conditions.  What it does do, first and foremost, is to focus on the importance of noticing the signs and symptoms of when someone is in distress and provides and/or simplifies a set of skills to assist that person in the moment.  This class provides clinicians and other attendees with an opportunity to learn and/or review intervention strategies. 

Another key area of MHFA training is the emphasis on stigma reduction.  In class, we focus on seeing a person who has an illness rather than labeling the person as the illness itself.  At times as clinicians, our clinical lens can limit our view of people.  The person becomes blurry while the diagnosis is sharply in focus.  This blurring of person and diagnosis creeps into our clinical language and ways of interacting with clients.

If I see Sally as a schizophrenic, my interactions with Sally will be based on that label.  When I remember that Sally is a kind, intelligent woman who loves running and has important family relationships and has the illness of schizophrenia, my interactions with Sally will be based on her humanness not her illness.  MHFA can remind us to preserve this lens in our practice.

The core of the MHFA curriculum centers on the teaching of risk factors and warning signs that someone is struggling, along with intervention strategies to use until professional help is available. The MHFA Action Plan consists of: 

  • Assessing for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listening nonjudgmentally
  • Giving reassurance and information
  • Encouraging appropriate professional help
  • Encouraging self-help and other support strategies

Even these basic guidelines, when reviewed in detail, can provide a intervention template for a clinician’s daily practice.

Another important take away I have learned in my work with MHFA, is the identification of my role when my clinical hat is off.  While being a social worker is an important part of my life and how I see myself, I am not a social worker to everyone in my life.  My family, neighbors, church community and friends interact with me not my role.  Perhaps in those relationships it is better for me to be a Mental Health First Aider and not a clinician.  This training provides a good framework for my role in interacting with my personal contacts and handing off to another professional.

Our national tagline for MHFA is “Be the Difference.”  As clinicians and regular people, we can all be the one to make a difference in someone’s life.  I recently asked a fellow MHFA instructor who she thinks should take MHFA classes.  Her response to me was, “Are you a person who interacts with other people?  Yes? Then you should take MHFA.” So, are YOU with us?

Be the Difference PSA

10,000 Mental Health First Aider

Linden Oaks Behavioral Health is on the verge of having trained 10,000 people in Mental Health First Aid. Be our 10,000 trainee! Join us from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. on April 12 in Naperville for a training course. Mental Health First Aiders will learn the 5-step action plan to help someone who is struggling. Learn more and register.


Denise Elsbree, LCSW

Denise is the licensed clinical social worker and community liaison for MHFA at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.   Denise loves sharing the MHFA message that we can all “Be the Difference” for someone in need.  She is a graduate of Wheaton College and Jane Addams College of Social Work.  She has worked at:  Communities In Schools of Aurora, the Aurora Police Department, and the Kane County Regional Office of Education.  Denise has supervised social work interns and has taught social work courses at Aurora University.