Jed’s Eye View: A new kind of first aid training

While traditional first aid deals with damage on the outside, such as cuts and bruises, there’s a new first aid course that deals with what may be wrong on the inside, in the mind. Mental Health First Aid Training will be offered in Rappahannock County starting in February — and the time to sign up is now.

The first course offering is for teachers and staff. It is expected that 80 of the school folks will be in the eight-hour course, taught in two four-hour sessions, on a teacher workday scheduled for Feb. 16.

There is no charge for the course, which is paid for by a grant from the Fauquier Health Foundation. The money comes through the Mental Health Association of Fauquier County (MHAFC) and the director of that organization is Sallie Morgan, a longtime mental health professional and Rappahannock resident who, with MHAFC vice president John Waldeck, will conduct the courses. Each of them is a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor.

The idea is to spot trouble early. To quote Morgan, “Half of adult mental health problems show up by age 14, and three quarters by age 24.” Depression and anxiety affect men and women of all ages, and those in all income brackets, too. It will be important, says Morgan, for teachers and other school staff to be able to identify and respond to mental health issues.

Indeed, there is heavy emphasis in this effort in signing up teachers and other adults in the school system. Morgan and those in MHAFC have met with school board chair John Lesinski and superintendent Donna Matthews to work out the logistics of the course offerings. Those who might be interested taking the course might include administrators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, coaches, first responders, social workers, caregivers and parents and other relatives.

After school staff goes through their course in February, a second course will be offered in March — for anyone in the community.

As Sallie Morgan says, “the curriculum is intensive, interactive, and enjoyable, using role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to offer initial help in a mental health or substance use crisis.” Those who take the course, says Morgan, “hone their ability to notice signs and symptoms and feel more confident” in responding to them. In other words, have the confidence to ask someone, “Are you okay? Do you need help?”

So, Sallie Morgan was asked, where does this training project come from? The shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech a few years ago? “No,” she responded, “it has more to do with what happened to [Virginia] Sen. Creigh Deeds” when he was attacked by his son. The son, Morgan notes, might have been helped by someone trained in mental health first aid.

The course is, again, free and comes with a manual for each participant. Anyone wishing to sign up can call 540-341-8732 or send an email to mhafc1@gmail.com.

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