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  • Submitted to the Journal

Area law enforcement officals train in mental health first aid

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Angie Smith, left, with Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center and a Mental Health First Aid instructor talks with local law enforcement officials about the importance of not stigmatizing a person who has mental health issues. (Submitted photo)

By Shelly Kelly, Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center

MOUND CITY — Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend knows the importance of mental health – and not just for the community members they selflessly serve, but for his colleagues and partners as well.

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, and Thursday, Oct. 19, law enforcement officials from two sheriff's offices, three police departments and the Kansas Highway Patrol met at Linn County's Justice Center in Mound City to become certified in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Agencies represented by the 34 officers attending included Linn County deputies, dispatchers, administrative staff, and corrections team members, along with officers from Mound City, Pleasanton, and Fort Scott police departments, Coffey County Sheriff.

Shelly Kelly, Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center’s MHFA project director, and Angie Smith, MHFA instructor, taught the two-day course.

“More and more individuals each day are struggling with stress and mental health issues, experiencing homelessness, and just feeling lost," said Kelly. "MHFA, an evidence-based certification training program by The National Council on Mental Wellbeing, helps educate individuals to recognize the warning signs and symptoms surrounding mental health, including suicide ideation.”

“The course not only teaches participants how to respond, but also how to refer individuals to resources that meet the individual’s needs," she said. "The goal of MHFA is to connect people in crisis with support and resources, instead of sending them to jail.”

Those participating in the MHFA classes included Linn County Sheriff's deputies and area Kansas Highway Patrol troopers. (Submitted photo)

Sheriff Friend said he found the course very beneficial.

"Our staff thrived in the class," he said. We were able to learn new techniques to apply to our service to affect the health and well-being of the staff and our citizens. This training is a must have for law enforcement and emergency services.”

Mental Health First Aid takes the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance-use problems by improving understanding and providing an action plan that teaches people to safely and responsibly identify and address a potential mental illness or substance use disorder. The acronym for the plan is ALGEE.

"Those who attended were trained to the fidelity of the MHFA model," said instructor Smith. "We teach them how to assess for the risk of suicide or harm.

"Listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help, and encourage self-help and other support strategies. We're focusing on signs and symptoms – how to recognize them and then how to take that information and get the individual in crisis to the most appropriate resources.

"Officers are then able to connect people with counselors or support people and teams to treat substance misuse, depression, and other mental health challenges. And learn how to take care of themselves."

Armed with this new training, officers will know how to step in and lift up when met with a mental health crisis.

"The main thing is trying to keep people safe," said Trooper Bridger Keyes, Kansas Highway Patrol, Bourbon County. "Being able to identify people that maybe need some extra help and being able to give the assistance they need and knowing where to turn is definitely helpful."

The Mental Health First Aid training is for everyone, just like CPR class. When more people are equipped with the tools they need to start a dialogue, more people can get the help they truly need. Mental Health First Aiders are a vital link between someone experiencing a mental health challenge or substance misuse and appropriate supports and resources.

All who participated have joined the family of over 3 million individuals in the United States who are certified in Mental Health First Aid.

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