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Local agency seeks to educate citizens on quick-response mental health help

Posted: December 19, 2012 8:10 p.m.
Updated: December 19, 2012 8:10 p.m.

As the horror of the Newtown, Conn., shooting results in nationwide calls for more mental health resources, a local agency is planning to offer special training on “mental health first aid” next year.

Darrell Paulk, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Child & Family Center, said it is important for everyone to be empowered to help others deal with mental health problems — future calamities like the Connecticut shooting might be averted that way.

“Access to mental health care is very difficult, and many people are not getting the help they need,” Paulk said.
While financial obstacles are difficult to overcome, Paulk said, the larger problem can be the stigma associated with mental health needs.

“People are afraid or ashamed to say they need help, that their kids need help, and that’s just unfortunate,” Paulk said.

Preliminary reports indicate the gunman suspected in the Newtown shooting, Adam Lanza, suffered from mental health issues that were kept hidden.

The Newtown shooting is not unique in this regard. Both James Holmes, the alleged gunman in a mass shooting in July that left 12 killed and 58 wounded in Aurora, Colo., and Jared Lee Loughner, who shot and killed six in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2011, reportedly exhibited symptoms of mental illnesses that went untreated.

Mental health first aid programs have been implemented in Tucson and throughout Colorado.

Training in mental health first aid will be offered by the Child & Family Center center in March.

It involves 12 hours of training in a series of rapid-response techniques the average person can do if he or she encounters someone suffering from some kind of mental malady, Paulk said.

Those techniques include assessing an unfolding situation, listening to a person to identify problems and encouraging him or her to seek professional health or to find ways for self-help.

The goal is to train people to respond as they would a physical problem such as a heart attack, said Larry Schallert, the director of program development at the Child & Family Center.

“What we’re basically doing is helping people to be able to provide a quick response to a mental health problem until professional treatment can be obtained,” Schallert said.

Schallert is one of three employees from the center who received training in mental health first aid from the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare in October.

The plan now is to hold a series of training workshops for the public.

The first such workshop will be held in March, Schallert said.




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