Chicago churches offer first aid for mental health


Churches across Chicago are offering training programs to teach their congregations about mental illness.

The “Mental Health First Aid” program will use role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to respond to a mental health crisis.

Robert Skrocki , chair of Chicago’s Interfaith Mental Health Coalition, will lead classes in Mental Health First Aid to help people learn the risk factors
and red flags of mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.

Skrocki said the simulations help participants understand what people with mental illness are experiencing.

“The faith community has always felt a calling to help people, but has not always had the tools to assist people struggling with conditions like depression,” says Robert Skrocki , chair of Chicago’s Interfaith Mental Health Coalition, “Shortly after our first training, we realized that this was a resource the faith community had been missing.”

Skrocki says Mental Health First Aid gives compassionate people the practical skills to complement their spiritual gifts.

While the program has been offered to a wide spectrum of people in the faith community, some instructors see the training as particularly beneficial to clergy.

“Many clergy have already experienced people coming to them for these kinds of problems,” says Helen Siporin, a certified instructor and president of Mental Health America of the Central Valley in Fresno, CA. “The training helps them recognize the warning signs of mental illness before the congregants even come to them for help.”

Organizers say demand for the faith-based program has been growing.

While about 5,000 people were trained in faith-based settings by April 2013, some 10,000  people have been trained as of April 2014.

“People may know CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, but the truth is they are more likely to come across someone in an emotional crisis than someone having a heart attack,” says Bryan Gibb, director of public education at the National Council for Behavioral Health. “Mental Health First Aid emphasizes that mental illnesses are real, common and treatable, and that help is available.”

Experts say one in five people worldwide suffers from mental health disorders.

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