Kaiser Permanente is funding free training courses to empower employees and the community to respond compassionately when someone is experiencing a mental health challenge. Pictured, Robert Vega, RN (left), took the course and then shared key information with his team of nurses.
Robert Vega, RN, is a nurse manager of a Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek Medical Center unit that cares for patients with respiratory complications. He said it’s not unusual for his team to see patients who are agitated, frustrated, or appearing to hallucinate, and it’s not always clear if the issue is delirium, dementia, or mental illness.
That’s why Vega recently attended a free 8-hour training course called Mental Health First Aid, offered by Catholic Charities of the East Bay. Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit, in partnership with Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s nursing leadership, is funding 8 sessions of the free course and offering it to employees and members of the community.
The goal is to train people to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders so they can help others who are struggling or in crisis. Vega described the course as a “great program,” with information and techniques that he could share with his nursing staff right away.
“It gives you a real awareness of what to look for and how to speak with people who are showing signs of mental illness,” he said. “There’s a lot of variability, so without knowing, it could be easy to overlook that someone might be struggling.”
The course also offers strategies for helping people stay safe and comfortable until they’re able to get professional help, and resources for mental health and addiction treatment and support.
Tools and Training to Help Someone in Distress
Mental Health First Aid is intended for anyone, not just health care professionals, who is interested in learning how to help people experiencing anxiety, depression, psychosis, or addictions. The National Council for Behavioral Health operates the Mental Health First Aid organization in the United States with a goal of making its training course as common as CPR or traditional first aid.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States will experience mental illness in a given year, but fewer than half of them will receive mental health services.
“People want to know how to help someone who is in distress, but they often don’t have the tools or training,” said Cat Willett, lead Mental Health First Aid instructor for Catholic Charities of the East Bay. “A heart attack and a panic attack share common symptoms, but most people don’t know how to help someone having a panic attack, even though it happens more frequently.”
The Mental Health First Aid course aims to change that. Peggi Winter, RN, DNP, Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s director of professional development and education for Patient Care Services helped launch the series of courses funded by Kaiser Permanente.
“The surveys we offer at the end of the course show people have increased confidence in their ability to help someone who is experiencing a mental health issue,” said Winter. “That’s what this course is all about.”
The course could also have a subtler but important effect. Tracy Ward, LCSW, project manager for Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community Benefit, said she hopes it will help eliminate the stigma long associated with mental illness.
“Education demystifies mental illness and that helps people talk about it and respond to it differently,” she said. “If we talk about mental illness more openly, people experiencing mental illness may get more support from their friends, family members, and coworkers — and maybe they’ll feel less alone.”
The Mental Health First Aid training courses sponsored by Kaiser Permanente Northern California this spring are now full. Additional classes may be planned for later this year, but there is currently no information to share. To find a training course in your area, visit the Mental Health First Aid website. To learn about future Kaiser Permanente sponsored training courses, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.