CHENANGO COUNTY — Chenango Health Network is offering two free, virtual Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) certification courses in June, where attendees will learn how to provide mental health support and make referrals to further resources for individuals experiencing a mental health challenge.
A certification course for adult MHFA is being offered from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Monday, June 5 and Monday, June 12. This course is recommended for individuals who regularly have contact with adults over 18 years of age.
A certification course for youth MHFA will be held from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20 and Tuesday, June 27. This course is recommended for individuals who regularly have contact with youth aged 12 to 18.
For both adult and youth classes, participants must be 18 years or older, complete approximately two hours of pre-course work at least 48 hours prior to the training dates, and attend both training sessions to receive their certification.
To register, contact Chenango Health Network MHFA Training Coordinator Tiffani Gager at 607-337-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"It's a wonderful program that really encourages empathy and to be aware of, you know, we never know what someone's going through, and to approach them non-judgmentally with kindness, regardless of their cultural background, because it’s all inclusive, it’s all welcoming, and it just exudes empathy," said Gager.
Participants will learn how to safely assess a situation, approach an individual with a calm demeanor, recognize when someone is at risk of self harm or suicide, confidentiality, what resources are available locally, and how to provide support by referring individuals to further resources or just lending a listening and understanding ear.
"All it takes is that one person to be like, ‘hey, I noticed you haven’t been yourself lately, is there anything I can do to support you?’ And then being kind and empathetic and asking those open-ended questions that invites people to be more open, because you’re providing that foundation for them where they feel safe enough to be vulnerable," Gager explained.
"It helps self awareness and it helps awareness of others, and just being that ray of hope and that connection to other supports that someone might need that they may not know is there."
The course also covers the importance of self care, good samaritan laws, and ALGEE, which stands for "assess for signs of risk of suicide or harm, listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage the person in a very gentle manner to open up and be vulnerable, and then encourage that self help and connecting to the supports that are offered."
"It breaks down what a bad day looks like versus a mental health challenge. You know, a bad day, we can have a couple of bad days in a row," Gager said. "But if certain changes in behaviors that we notice continue for a duration of time, it makes you stop and take pause going, okay, maybe this is more than just a bad day for this person. Maybe they’re really in need of help. And it helps give helpful ways to approach them."
Becoming certified in Mental Health First Aid helps to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, said Gager. Not only does it give individuals the knowledge needed to support others struggling with mental health challenges — whether they be friends, family, or strangers — but it also helps individuals to recognize mental health struggles in themselves.
"It's breaking down the stigma to break down those barriers of fear that people will be looked down upon or anything like that because they are experiencing a challenge, it’s to break that down and be accepting and say, ‘you know what? It’s okay. It’s okay that you’re struggling,'" said Gager.
"It’s so important because it gives you a perspective that a lot of people I don’t think appreciate or understand before taking mental health first aid," she added. "The beautiful part of this is that finally mental health is coming to the forefront."
Chenango Health Network offers community Mental Health First Aid trainings every month, as well as certification courses for businesses and organizations.
Gager recommends anyone who can attend the course to do so.
"Even if you might never quite use it, at least you’ll have it in your back pocket for the moment that you just might. Or even just for yourself, to just remember, 'I’m worth self care. I'm worth caring about, and mental health first aid taught me that.' And that to me is invaluable," she said. "And you have a shiny certificate to say, hey, I am a Certified Mental Health First Aider. What better way to feel so great about yourself knowing you were certified to be a beacon of light?"
For more information on Chenango Health Network, visit ChenangoHealth.org or the Chenango Health Network Facebook page.