What to do when someone shows signs of mental health problems
Physical signs of mental health problems include lack of energy, sleeping too much or too little, overeating or loss of appetite, headaches, unexplained aches and pains.
The behavioral signs are crying spells, withdrawal from others, loss of motivation and slow movement.
“We’re noticing somebody that’s usually well kept and put together. We’re noticing a decline in their hygiene that could be a really good indicator that something’s going on,” BJ Horner told the class.
Horner is one of the instructors for Mental Health First Aid and is a prevention specialist.
Class participants were shown how to calm someone going through a panic attack by having them focus on a particular color or sound to calm their racing thoughts.
“By focusing on the five senses, it “gets them to focus attention on something other than what they’re panicked about.”
They reenacted a woman having a panic attack, pacing back and forth. The person helping them mimicked their movements but walked more slowly.
Then she said, “pretend I have some flowers in my hand- I want you to smell those flowers.” This forces people to breathe through their nose, which slows down their breathing rate.
The class also took part in an exercise — mimicking what it may be like to experience a psychotic episode, particularly when someone is hearing voices.
The lesson here: Don’t tell someone they aren’t experiencing something when for them it’s true. “Even if it’s not real to us, it is to them. And we need to remember that,” Horner told the class.
“We’re not training anyone to be a professional. We’re only teaching people how to be an empathetic friend, family member or coworker,” said Schwartz.
Memorizing a life-saving acronym – ALGEE
A big takeaway from the workshop is learning the acronym ALGEE, a road map of how to react when someone is really struggling.
“A” stands for “assess for risk of harm or suicide.” The trainers say asking if someone is thinking of harming themselves is actually a big life saver.
“L” stands for “listen non-judgmentally.” You shouldn’t offer advice, Horner explains.
You should listen, not interrupt, and really try to hear what they’re saying without judgment. That makes the person really feel heard and safe, says Horner.
“This is their story and they need to talk. Our judgment can’t come into play. If it does, we’re not going to be the one they’re willing to talk to anymore.”
“G” is for “give information and reassurance.” Each student gets a list of mental health and addiction resources for their community that can be given out to those in need.
“E” is for “encourage professional help if needed.
“It’s going to be very important to have some buy-in into their own recovery,” Horner tells the class. “We all like to be able to say ‘I did this’. Get them involved in those decision making skills.”