Editorial: Mental Health First Aid: properly treating illness

Much to the dismay of those whose problems have been downplayed or erased, mental health is not given the same respect as physical health. The lack of tangibility to symptoms just creates a block in the way of many, preventing them from acknowledging the very real effects of the illnesses. Like physical ailments, though, mental health issues and conditions do have recognizable and treatable symptoms. Additionally, while a permanent condition (physical or otherwise) may never go away, it can always flare up at inconvenient times.

With all of this in mind, the question then becomes: what can be done for those with mental ailments? Be it a stress-related sickness or a panic attack, it can be hard to observe, understand and most importantly treat those suffering. Many physical ailments have obvious symptoms and treatments, but attempting to help someone with mental problems incorrectly can backfire, only fanning the flames of the issue. What can be done, then, for those suffering?

Mental Health First Aid is a program meant to solve this issue. Much like there are those trained in first aid physically, this program attempts to teach people how they can assist those suffering from distress properly. Fortunately for students at the University of Connecticut, many of their peers are already learning from and applying the instructional sessions being offered by the outreach program.

Teaching people how to listen constructively is at the top of the agenda for Mental Health First Aid. Too often, people can take one of two routes when trying to help those suffering from mental vulnerabilities: either they can come off as uncaring to the point of worsening whatever ailment or they can take too active a role, trying to prescribe ways to fix problems rather than nurturing the root cause. Both of these treatments can make those in distress feel powerless or voiceless. Instead, as the program suggests, those listening should make an effort to let the person speak their mind, keeping the conversation focused on empathy and understanding.

As many in the program have already stated, learning Mental Health First Aid can greatly help in any interpersonal discipline. Nursing and teaching majors would be able to find learning such skills practical and commonly applicable. Good listening skills and treatment methods such as those taught in the program are even more widely used. Whether it is helping friends out of their own pits or calming an anxiety-stricken stranger, knowing how to soothe those suffering from mental health problems can change the day, week or life of those around you. As issues regarding mental health make more and more waves and get much-needed recognition, it is important to consider how to help those in need, not just what to do with them.