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Mental Health First Aid

October 18, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Did you know nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. live in a rural area??That's us!?

According to the website, "the challenges faced by residents in rural areas are significantly different than those in urban areas."?

Rural populations are often underserved and possess health and behavioral health disparities.

The major issue is that we lack providers and services.

That's certainly true here. While I'm actually feeling pretty great nearly every day, I?felt it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to get a check up of sorts: to have a pro look at my occasional anxiety issues and other little blips and see if I could be better treated with a new regimen, maybe an alternative diagnosis.

I called a regional mental health provider four months ago. Four months. I've followed up with phone calls. I've used their online appointment request sheet. I've yet to speak to a real person. Four months. I'm sure relieved I'm not anywhere near a crisis. What if someone was? Maybe someone has been. We don't know.

This is why I have been interested in mental health first aid for a few years.

"Rural Mental Health First Aid is a way to build community-level capacity to identify mental health and substance abuse issues early, and for rural residents to increase their confidence to intervene and refer people to resources that do exist."

The website continues:?"Rural communities have a long history of being innovative and taking responsibility. Mental Health First Aid is a way to increase the level of baseline knowledge of mental helath and substance abuse issues, and to decrease the negative perceptions often associated with these issues."?

And it's happening here. Iowa Lakes Community College, through Miranda DePyper, is holding three sessions of Mental Health First Aid for emergency service providers, the first of which took place earlier this week. There are two more sessions available to any public safety officials in the area:?July 31-Aug 1, and Aug. 5, each class containing eight hours of instruction, whether in one or two sessions.

Both the Estherville Police Department and the Emmet County Sheriff's office have told me one major issue with people who have mental health crises in our area is that there are very few mental health beds in Iowa. Hence, when an individual has a crisis, an officer often has to wait in the ER until they can be transported to receive care for their brain. And that's out of county, out of area, because there aren't any psychiatry floors around here. This could take hours, across officer work shifts, even days.

When a placement is finally identified, family may find it hard to visit, and the person is isolated; not really a good thing for mental health.

I've reported before that Iowa ranks dead last in this department, and the closings of the mental health facilities in 2014 have filtered to the communities.

I think the reason I can't even get someone to return a phone call to make an appointment from our regional mental health provider is that they cannot handle the volume. They could possibly hire more providers, but there aren't really psychiatrists, psychologists or even mental health nurses to hire.

What if you're not a public safety worker??

Sept. 20 is an eight-hour course for the public. Whether you're a caregiver, relative, spouse, parent, sibling, child, or just someone in the community who would be willing to learn about mental health issues and, kind of like being certified in CPR and First Aid, be ready to administer mental heatlh first aid should someone experience a crisis.

It really is sort of like a heart attack, though it's not treated nearly as seriously. Instead of arteries, veins, or the heart muscle, it's the wiring in the brain that goes off course. So thinking is skewed, emotions are all over the map, and at times behavior does not line up with the person's intentions.

If we can get past the fear and misperceptions, I think we can fill the Mental Health First Aid course, and have a mentally healthier community. Ready??



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