MHFA newsletter - May 2015

Mental Health First Aid News and Notes

What's New in MHFA?

From the Desk of Denise Elsbree, LCSW, MHFA Coordinator

Wow- these first few months have flown by. It’s been great to be out in the field and to have met so many of you. Barry spoke often of how much he enjoyed being at the classes and having the opportunity to learn from each of you. I would second that statement. We have a wonderfully diverse consortium in experiences, professions and range of knowledge areas and expertise. As I have spent time with many of you observing and listening to you teach MHFA and YMHFA, I have come to appreciate even more the beauty of our collaboration.

Athough I’ve taught MHFA since 2011, my teaching opportunities have been primarily with people who have worked in public schools. It has been a learning experience for me to be with other MHFA audiences: church groups, student nurses, community college employees, volunteers at food banks, parents and funeral directors. MHFA is such a rich and well-written curriculum that it positively impacts all these groups. I appreciate how each of you actively seek for ways to connect with these varied audiences and the needs presented.

Observing each of you allows me to be a student and reflect on my own teaching techniques. One observation that stands out for me is that in each class when people ask questions or discuss situations, these experiences are more likely to be related to their interactions with family members and friends opposed to things from their work life. When that happens, I always feel such respect for the person sharing their story. What a gift that is to each of us when people share their stories. This is a true opportunity for us to learn about lived experience and recovery. I challenge each of you to honor their stories by continuing to learn from them and from each other.

Needed: More Hope

by Judy Smith, MHFA Instructor

I have been a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructor for two years, leading both adult and youth MHFA courses. I also have experience with mental illness in my own family which was a major factor that guided me to MHFA and this point professionally. As a result of this varied experience, there is one essential element I like to express when teaching this course.

Looking back on those early family years and all that went with a developing mental illness—finding adequate treatment, multiple doctor visits, hospitalizations, the emotional highs and lows—I realize that hope both for the healthy family members and for the individual battling this illness was and is a critical factor to help everyone face each new and uncertain day.

During the early days of family’s journey with mental health diagnosis, I remember seeking music that would stir my sense of hope. I also remember that reading stories of recovery were naturally far more encouraging to me and my struggling family member than accounts of endless despair.

Reality was all too obvious and, at times, painful. I needed to know things could get better.

Which is why we as instructors have a unique opportunity—an obligation really—to help de-stigmatize mental illness and provide accurate, timely information to our participants. We also have an opportunity to speak hope into the lives of participants who are either themselves dealing with mental illness or who are walking alongside someone who is.

MHFA can and must provide hope in just a few of the following ways:

  1. By actually providing a plan for helping someone with a developing or actual illness.
  2. By giving opportunity to decrease stigma by emphasizing recovery.
  3. By providing statistics which reveal how common mental illnesses are and encouraging individuals to seek help early.
  4. By offering examples—stories—of hope. The examples we use to illustrate various situations will be more compelling, more effective if they are not “worst case scenarios” but rather the better or best-case scenarios. Think about stories you know about those who have triumphed over their illness or who have used the strategies you’re presenting and found success.

People learn best when they do not feel exhausted and worried but rather feel hope.

It is this need to experience—to “feel”—hope that lead me to “It Might Be Hope,” a song by Sara Groves. It spoke H. O. P. E. to me when the days my family was going through seemed darkest:

You do your work the best that you can
You put one foot in front of the other
Life comes in waves and makes its demands
You hold on as well as you’re able

Hope has a way of turning its face to you
Just when you least expect it
You walk in a room
You look out a window
And something there leaves you breathless
You say to yourself
It’s been a while since I felt this
But it feels like it might be hope

It’s hard to recall what blew out the flame
It’s been dark since you can remember
You talk it all through to find it a name
As days go on by without number

You’ve been here for a long, long time

Hope has a way of turning its face to you
Just when you least expect it
You walk in a room
You look out a window
And something there leaves you breathless
You say to yourself
It’s been a while since I felt this
but it feels like it might be hope

“It Might Be Hope”
Lyrics and Music by Sara Groves

In the days ahead, let’s make sure we’re all leaving our participants with more and more hope.

What’s on the MHFA national website and when is my MHFA instructor certification up?


We are approaching the deadline for many of you to have completed your three classes within the calendar year. As a reminder, you have to teach three Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) courses within one calendar year of your instructor training anniversary date. If you are certified in both Youth and Basic MHFA you must have taught at least one class of each curriculum to maintain that certification.

Are you wondering how many classes you’ve taught? Use this opportunity to set up your own log in account at Setting up your account is simple and will open up a lot of resources for you as an instructor. You can take monthly webinars designed for MHFA instructors, find the list of classes that you have taught along with your specific anniversary date, and check out training tips.

MHFA USA also sends out a monthly newsletter. This newsletter is a great resource for updated research and statistics related to aspects of the MHFA class. For instance: did you know that “Providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.” And “Every 19 minutes, someone dies from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the U.S.” Great information to utilize during the Substance Abuse Disorder section of the class.

In the March 19 edition of the newsletter we learned that Michele Obama took an abbreviated MHFA class. She spoke out about the importance of learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental disorders and knowing skills for interacting with and supporting someone in a mental health crisis.

I hope you will all take advantage of these excellent resources. Go on check out (Oh and if you have any concerns about your status as a MHFA instructor after having looked at your list of classes on the website, email or call me right away.)

What kind of stories are you telling in training?

MHFA Curriculum Corner

I was going to write about some other curriculum thing. Then the German Wings airplane crashed. Here we go, I thought. One more media story that reinforces the stigma we work to combat. Here is one more story that will get re-played on each news cycle creating fear and supporting the belief that it’s dangerous to be around someone experiencing a mental health difficulty or crisis.

Research demonstrates that people experiencing mental health problems are no more dangerous or violent than the general population. When we buy into the myth that a person who is depressed is dangerous, or that someone experiencing PTSD might “go off” at any time, we create distance. Too often these are the stories that people hear and believe to be true.

Our job as MHFA instructors is to tell different stories. It’s easy to tell about situations in which the person typifies behavior we see at the more severe end of the impact continuum. Don’t fall into this trap. Let’s challenge ourselves and each other to tell stories of recovery and stories of hope. Sure stories of hope might not grab our audiences’ attention, but these are the more important narratives for people to hear. Talk about someone who is in recovery. Share about a time that support strategies provided a bridge back to wellness. Tell stories that demonstrate how giving reassurance and information works. Follow the guideline of telling two stories of recovery for each story of severity.

Teena Mackey, MHFA Instructor

Consortium Instructor Spotlight

Following a satisfying career in public service as a Parks and Recreation Professional, Teena was drawn to a longstanding interest in the field of psychology. For the past 8 years she has been employed as a Case Manager at Cornerstone Services, Inc. working with adults diagnosed with a mental illness. Teena also serves on the Board of Directors for the NAMI Will Grundy affiliate providing much needed services for individuals diagnosed with a mental illness and their families.

Family to Family, Basics, Connections and Family Support are just a few of the signature programs that NAMI Will Grundy sponsors in order to provide education and support for individuals diagnosed with a mental illness and their families. Teena has been a Mental Health First Aid instructor for four years and just recently facilitated her first Youth Mental Health First Aid class.

Teena says that, “The MHFA programs are a wonderful opportunity to educate the community at large about the issues related to mental illness and insight into the struggle of an individual diagnosed with a mental illness. Recognizing emerging signs and symptoms of a mental illness is an important technique for implementing early intervention and ensuring hope for recovery.”

Teena is passionate about reducing the stigma associated with a diagnosis of mental illness and believes that the best avenue toward that end is education. The MHFA programs are uniquely designed to bring that education to people who live in our communities of “all shapes and sizes.” She looks forward to widespread implementation of the Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings to improve recognition, diagnosis and support of individuals challenged by a diagnosis of mental illness.

Finally, she insists that we add (even though this pains Denise) - GO CUBS! next year is here….

The Power of Words

Helpful Teaching Tips Corner

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of words. It started over the winter holidays during one of the family discussions that you’re not supposed to have about politics and politically correct terms. My reflections have continued at each MHFA class during the teaching moments about stigma. There have been some awesome phrases and discussion points I’ve been privileged to hear from Team MHFA.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Be gentle. (From Amy Barth) This is a great rule to list as part of our “Ground Rules.” From the get-go we can set the tone of the class as an environment in which we are all learning about how to talk about mental health issues in a new way. It gives permission for all of us to change how we talk about mental illness and how we listen to each other.
  • ALGEE is like a well- equipped tool belt. (From Melissa Jandt) Think of how you might be able to apply this analogy. Each ALGEE skill is like a specific tool. You might not use all of the tools all the time, or even in a set order. But knowing how to use the various tools and having them handy increases confidence for the mental health first aider.
  • Have a discussion about the word “commit” during the discussion about suicide. (From Corey Worden) When do we use the word commit? People commit crimes, sins and are committed. None of these are positive associations. Having this discussion helps class participants understand why we want to change the term, “committed suicide” to “completed suicide.”
  • So what should you do if you slip up and use words like, “crazy, nuts, committed suicide” or label someone as a schizophrenic or bipolar?” (Yes – we’ve all done it in class.) Use the situation as a great teaching moment. You have the opportunity to use yourself as an example of how pervasive these terms and negative connotations are in our language. Then challenge the group and yourself to work to stay away from language that hurts and perpetuates stigma.