MHFA newsletter - January 2015

Mental Health First Aid News and Notes

From the Desk of the MHFA Coordinator

There’s a New “Peer” Leader at the Helm

Denise Elsbree, LCSW

It’s a time of transitions. Barry’s move forward into relaxation mode has opened up a wonderful opportunity for me. I am excited to join you all as the Community Liaison for MHFA with Linden Oaks. I’ve been a part of the MHFA Team since the initial training in 2011 and recently participated in the Youth MHFA training this past summer.

My work experience has been primarily with youth in various counseling settings: schools, police departments and outpatient counseling. I enjoy collaborating within the community to create and nurture partnerships. I’ve also been blessed with the opportunity to train social work interns for many years. Teaching and training serves to remind me of the value of the skills we teach in MHFA. The MHFA message is something I feel committed to sharing with others and I’m grateful for being a part of your team.

I look forward to meeting and working with all of you over the next months. Barry has the coordination of this endeavor down to an art form. I will do my best to live up to the high standards he has set. Please let me know how I might assist any of you. I am excited to learn from each of you.

Barry Groesch Farewell Address

It Has Been Fun

I started this adventure in 2011 and I remember telling Charla that it felt good to sink my teeth into a new project. That “project”, Mental Health First Aid, has evolved into an in- depth education in how to help people with mental health challenges, but more importantly, it turned into some great camaraderie and friendships. I had the best seat in the house; I was able to attend all the classes and continued to learn from the greatest.

My wife and I have always had a love of Florida and we purchased a home in Punta Gorda knowing it was the right time while contemplating our next stage of life. After last winter we have decided to spend more time in an acceptable climate. I plan to continue to be a member of our consortium and teach the MHFA curriculum here when we return in the spring, but I also will explore the opportunity to teach in Florida.

I encourage you to work with the next MHFA Community Liaison as you have with me; attentively, light-heartily, and compassionately, because it is not about us, but what we can do to help our fellow man and to leave this place better than we found it.


Barry Groesch


Taking Care of the First Aider

Self-care is something that has been hinted at during our Basic Mental Health First Aid classes but has not been given much attention. Our Youth Mental Health First Aid instructors were excited to be given the green light to talk about taking care of the first aider during our YMHFA instructor training. A slide is built right into the curriculum entitled Taking Care of the First Aider with five bullets detailing what participants might look at to help themselves. The self-care questions are the following:

  • Have I decided what I will do for self-care?
  • Who can I debrief with now?
  • If I feel upset or distressed later, who can I call?
  • If I share with others, how do I ensure the confidentiality of the young person?
  • Do I or my family need a break?

Important questions, right? I know these are questions we have considered but not necessarily discussed in teaching the Basic MHFA courses.

When the Youth MHFA consortium members read this slide during our instructor training, hands went up immediately, asking if we could use it in the basic training. Here’s the answer with both an upside and a downside: you can use the information, but the slide cannot be added to the basic curriculum due to the fidelity of the material. The National Council requires that specific material be viewed in all classes taught throughout the nation. Changing the curriculum is a task that can only be done by a formal decision by the National Council.

So, what can we do? Write these bullet points in your instructor manual to remind yourself to ask these questions and stimulate some good conversation with your participants. If we are talking the talk about getting friends, neighbors, or coworkers to seek formal help, we to should be able to walk the walk and seek that help for ourselves.

MHFA Curriculum Corner

Youth Mental Health First Aid vs. Basic Mental Health First Aid

I’ve been asked the question on several occasions: Is there really a big difference between Youth MHFA and the Basic MHFA curricula? Ask your colleagues that have been trained in both and I think they will endorse the uniqueness of each. Individual instructors may have a preference for one training over the other, suggesting, for example that the Kevin Hines video series is not as strong as the psychosis video, or that Mark Sommers’ sweater is too outdated. I believe that everyone trained in both modules can recognize the intent of each syllabi and is learning to connect class participants to the specific training goals of YMHFA.

The curricula are distinct in their intent. The YMHFA training focuses significantly more on the skills we use in ALGEE and spends very little time discussing specific mental health disorders. This was done intentionally so that First Aiders emphasize relationship building with youth and not understanding a specific set of diagnoses.

Some of the exercises are the same in both. The Auditory Hallucination Script is such a powerful exercise that it works extremely well in both trainings.

If you were not able to take the Youth MHFA instructor class, think about taking a Youth MHFA class (free of charge) to broaden your knowledge on the ALGEE skills and on adolescent development. It gave me a new prospective on many issues and I think it will help to give a more solid footing to your mental health foundation.

Consortium Instructor Spotlight

Barry Groesch

Barry Groesch was very involved in Boy Scouts as a youth and obtained the rank of Eagle Scout in 1976 His career started at Kendall County Sheriff’s Department in 1981 and continued through the Yorkville Police Department where he retired in 2011 at the rank of Sergeant. During his profession he completed his Bachelors in Art degree from Northern Illinois University in 2009.

Some highlights of Barry’s career include teaching Drug Abuse Resistance Education for 14 years and starting the school liaison programs in both the Yorkville High School and Yorkville Middle School. He became very involved in the Illinois DARE Officer Association working through the board positions and attaining the president seat during his tenure.

Barry was also involved in many organizations throughout Yorkville including Greater Yorkville Kiwanis, Yorkville Clergy Association, Kendall County Food Pantry, and Kendall County Criminal Justice Explorer Post 1155 to name a few.

After retirement Barry came to work at Linden Oaks at Edward leading the newly formed consortium of instructors in Mental Health First Aid. During his tenure at this new job, Barry again became involved in the FXTV cable consortium and started a new talk show entitled Mental Health First Aid. This show was added to his repertoire of other shows that he hosted including Inside Yorkville and Behind the Badge. Barry is retired again, but will continue to teach.

Helpful Teaching Tips Corner

Being Sensitive to Touch

In the MHFA and the Youth MHFA classes we ask for volunteers to role play assisting someone having a panic attack. One of the key teaching points from this activity is about not touching someone unless you have asked permission first. The explanation offered for not touching is usually related to PTSD, past sexual abuse or trauma that may trigger a reaction through an uninvited touch, even one offered in kindness.

I learned this lesson again this past summer in a non-MHFA situation. I met a woman suffering from a physical condition related to a car accident. During my interaction with her I had lightly touched her arm in what I thought was a way of connecting with her. She flinched at my contact with her arm and then explained that one of the long lasting disabilities she experiences is extreme sensitivity to being touched. My act of touching her was not nurturing but painful. This experience re-enforced for me this important lesson about always asking permission first.

As I reflected on the interaction I realized once again that my touching her arm had been more about my needs than hers. Be sure to discuss “touch” in your classes and share your learning experiences with class participants.

MHFA Expansion

New Collaborations

We are very excited to announce two new alliances.

  • Northern Illinois Food Bank- This organization is a very important piece of the puzzle in assisting people meet their basic needs and we are honored to help Food Bank staff work with this significant population within our communities.
  • Waubonsee Community College- Waubonsee Community College is partnering with us on several different levels from offering the class to the public, to having closed classes for certain professions and now to having classes for their staff. We have one class scheduled for their staff with several more in the works through other avenues within their organization.