Fast-filling classes illustrate need for mental health educationThe first-aid course Lee Berlinquette teaches doesn’t involve chest compressions or putting pressure on wounds.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
The first-aid course Lee Berlinquette teaches doesn’t involve chest compressions or putting pressure on wounds.
But the bottom line for mental health first aid is the same: Train people to treat immediate problems until the hurting person can be turned over to professionals. It’s the sort of training President Obama included in his package of recommendations to reduce gun violence, Berlinquette said.
“We look for signs and symptoms,” said Berlinquette, a certified mental health first-aid instructor who is training and development coordinator for Lutheran Social Service in Duluth.
“For instance, if somebody’s having an anxiety or panic attack, what are some of the things that maybe we can do initially to help that person through that immediate crisis?”
Berlinquette was talking last week before the fourth and final session of the February mental health first-aid class, which took place at the Amberwing treatment center in Duluth. Thirty people took the course, bringing job titles that included teacher, school nurse, case manager, pastor and registered nurse.
It filled up quickly, and so a second class was offered this month. It filled up just as quickly.
Now, a third class is being offered, with a special emphasis. Berlinquette will teach youth mental health first aid in two four-hour sessions on consecutive evenings in April.
Mental health first aid, which originated in Australia in 2001, has been available in the United States only since 2008, Berlinquette said. And she’s in the first wave of instructors who will teach the youth mental health first-aid course. She attended the pilot program in Chicago last year, and the materials were just released in the past few months.
The youth version will include many of the elements of mental health first-aid training, she said, but the focus will be on dealing with people from the 12-to-25 age group.
“Usually in that age group is when mental health issues start to develop,” Berlinquette said.
The Dec. 14 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which an apparently mentally ill 20-year-old man killed 20 children and six adults in an elementary school, brought mental health first-aid training to the forefront, Berlinquette said. In response, President Obama on Jan. 16 called for mental health first-aid training for teachers and staff.
“The timing is right,” agreed Kelly Banks, a mental health practitioner in the Duluth schools who attended the February classes. “We need some improvement in mental health care, and I think this is a step in that direction. … There’s a lot of people that don’t know what to do.”
Although big, news-making events bring attention to mental health, Christine Antilla said she has seen less-dramatic evidence of the growing need in her three years as pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in West Duluth.
Much of the mental health challenge comes from the stress people are experiencing because of material needs, said Antilla, who also took the February class. Requests for assistance have increased by 100 percent in her three years at the church, she said.
“They become desperate,” she said.
Antilla was ordained in 2002 and has been a licensed social worker for 25 years. But she still felt the need for the additional training the mental health first-aid course provided.
“It just behooves us to be well-equipped,” she said of those in ministry. “We’re kind of front line. So the ‘first aid’ word is really apt, because often we are the first people that folks in trouble will come to.”
Berlinquette, who taught the course for the eighth time in February, said she constantly reminds her students not to go beyond the scope of their training.
“If you think it’s beyond what you can deal with, that’s when you bring in others,” she said. “You don’t have to step into every situation.”
Youth mental health first aid
The Miller-Dwan Foundation is sponsoring a youth mental health first-aid class in April.
Classes, taught by certified instructor Lee Berlinquette, will be 5-9:15 p.m. April 17 and 18 at Amberwing, 615 Pecan Ave.
The course is intended for anyone who works or interacts with youth, such as teachers, coaches, mentors and juvenile justice professionals. Continuing education credits will be offered.
The class is limited to 30 students, and the registration fee is $125.
To register, call the Miller-Dwan Foundation at (218) 786-5829. Online registration will be available soon.