Groups offer free classes in Utah on ‘first aid’ for mental health issues

By Danica Lawrence, Fox13

SALT LAKE CITY – Research shows roughly one in four people deal with mental health issues in Utah, and a new class is providing people the "first aid" lessons they need to help loved ones who are suffering.

“These classes provide an amazing bridge to understanding what mental health is, the various levels of it, and how you can start talking to somebody,” said Katie Flood of The Speedy Foundation.

Experts say mental health is a subject that's been scary to talk about in the past but isn't so easy to avoid anymore. Suicide is a major health problem in Utah and a leading cause of preventable death.

Allene Ross and her husband work to help folks in the community through a local mission call from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she said the class represents a shift in thinking.

“When I was growing up, people with mental health were kind of hidden, and now we’re more aware of the situation,” Ross said.

According to the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, the state averages about 503 suicides per year, which is one of the highest rates of suicide in the country.

But groups like the Speedy Foundation and Optum are teaming up to beat the stigma.

“Mental health first aid is incredibly important because, just as when you learn CPR or the Heimlich maneuver, there are certain steps you follow, the same for mental health first aid, there are some very basic steps that you can follow,” said Julie Hardle, a manager at Optum in Salt Lake County.

The Speedy Foundation offers an eight-hour class, which is typically taken over the course of four weeks.

“So we give them the steps and the tools to help them feel not so overwhelmed and actually be very effective in helping people get the access to the services they need,” Hardle said.

Ross said the training is helpful.

“Now I know how to recognize when someone is having an anxiety attack and not a heart attack, how to talk to them, how to calm them, how to listen,” she said.

Ross’ husband serves in the presidency for the mission she serves in, and the presidency encourages all of their missionaries to take the course.

“So it helps our missionaries, who are serving in the inner-city, with the people they are serving to recognize when they're having a mental health issue, and to know what to do to respond to them, and give them the support they need,” she said.

Visit the Speedy Foundation’s website for more information about the resources they offer.