Mental Health First Aid: Out of the Shadows

At Hanukkah, we are reminded that even during the darkest hours of the darkest days, a single candle can pierce the night. Hidden things are illuminated. Their power to frighten is dispelled when we are able to see clearly what’s in front of us and name what was previously lurking in the shadows.

Far too often, mental health continues to be that hidden thing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental disorder or illness at some point in their lifetimes. But, as a society, we remain uncomfortable and ill-prepared to discuss mental health.

When people experience a physical injury or illness — cancer or heart issues, for example — we tend to rally around them, as we should. However, when someone experiences a mental health issue, what do we tend to do?

We back away from them.

We prioritize physical health over mental health. As a society, we still don’t know how to talk about, much less provide support for, individuals experiencing mental illness or substance use challenges. We have, likely without even realizing it, created a culture in which people feel ashamed to ask for help — to seek the anchor of support so necessary for healing.

JFCS believes each of us has the power to be a first-responder when we encounter someone in crisis. We have invested in training our staff so that we can now offer Mental Health First Aid courses.

Our vision is a community collectively more prepared to respond to those in need and to help them find a path to professional services and recovery.

The first step in addressing the challenge is to combat the stigmas associated with mental health and substance use. Through Mental Health First Aid training, we explore the power of the words we use and how our language can amplify or reduce stigma.

Through Mental Health First Aid training, we also equip individuals to offer support. We are planting seeds so that people in the community are prepared as “noticers.” We empower them to recognize the signs of mental illness and to develop the skills necessary to respond with non-judgmental social support. We know that once people feel comfort and acceptance, they are more likely to seek professional help.

And, of course, we offer professional services at JFCS. In addition to individual, couples, and family counseling, we can also provide our clients psychiatric medication assessment and management.

Mental Health First Aid is just one of the evidenced-based modalities we use. Many of our staff are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and other best practices that are tailored to meet individual needs. As an agency, we are highly collaborative and networked with other service providers. We often connect people to community resources outside of JFCS, if their needs extend beyond our purview.

Together, I believe we can lift mental health and substance use out of the shadows to make a real and meaningful difference that touches the hidden places in so many peoples’ hearts. 

I wish you and those you care about a Hanukkah filled with light.

Learn more about Mental Health First Aid and Counseling Services

By Deb FrocktChief Executive Officer

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