By STEVEN NALLEY
For people with mental health issues, the correct response to their behavior can be as important as CPR.
Lori Latham, the Oktibbeha County administrator with Community Counseling Services, said this is the reason she teaches classes through the national Mental Health First Aid program. She said MHFA is a 12-hour certification course which teaches those without backgrounds in psychology how to assess and respond to individuals who exhibit abnormal behavior.
“Let’s say you’re in Walmart, and this person starts acting strange (and says she is experiencing heart pain,)” Latham said. “She tells you she’s never had heart problems. (With an MHFA class), you would know to ask her if she’s ever had panic attacks. They are hoping one day that this will be offered like CPR out in the communities.”
Latham is one of 16 MHFA instructors nationwide chosen to train for and deliver a pilot MHFA program focused on dealing with youth mental health issues.
Susan Partain, MHFA coordinator with the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, said there are almost 2,000 instructors in the U.S. alone, and MHFA programs exist in 14 different countries, with its origins in Australia. She said Australia already has a curriculum for youths, and Latham will help the NCCBH replicate it.
“The focus of the curriculum is really on helping those who work with youth and young people, helping people between 12-18 ideally, (but) also younger (children) and also transition age youth going up to 25,” Partain said.
The adult curriculum can be applied to mental health patients in these age ranges, Partain said, but the new curriculum will teach such new details as signs people need to connect with a patient’s parent or guardian, unique approaches needed for addressing youths or adolescents and the differences between development of a mental health issue in adolescents versus adults.
Partain said the pilot program will take place across 10 different sites, and it has attracted interest from many MHFA instructors. She said MHFA sought instructors who had prior experience with youths, geographical diversity and diversity in types of youth audiences.
“Some may be teaching to school districts,” Partain said. “Others may be working with the juvenile court system. (Latham) has been involved with the program for some time now. She has shown she’s very capable, very good about providing feedback and she was in an area we wanted to make sure was geographically represented. She was always a good instructor in terms of the evaluations we got back as well.”
Latham said she began working with MHFA in January 2009, and last year, she conducted 13 classes of as many as 25 students.
“We trained the firemen here in Starkville, (and) we’ve trained ... all of the officers with the sheriff’s department except for the road crew,” Latham said. “We trained at least one counselor from each of the schools here in the Starkville School District. We trained all of the staff at the Winston-Choctaw correctional facility. I do a lot of training each year. I feel like that’s my way of giving back to the community.”
Latham said MHFA is important to her because her experience in the mental health field has shown few in the general public understand how to deal with mental health patients.
“I felt like I’m very devoted to my clients and I feel like they need the opportunities that we all have in the community, and if somebody doesn’t understand or is standoffish because you have some type of disorder, it’s usually only because they don’t understand it,” Latham said. “I feel like it’s very important to go out and educate the front-line people that are actually out in our communities.”
Latham said she will leave Tuesday to train in Chicago for the pilot program. She and other participants will have the opportunity to critique an initial proposal for the pilot before training, she said.
“When I come back here,” Latham said, “I will be teaching it to members of the Starkville School District.”