Recognizing & handling a mental health crisis

Apr 18, 2018

Since the Parkland, Florida school shooting there has been a high demand for Mental Health First Aid training in our community.  As part of our Mental Health reporting initiative, WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley attended a Mental Health First Aid session at Baker Victory Services in Lackawanna.

First aid training for medical emergencies can be key in saving a life. But we lack training when it comes to handling a mental health crisis.

Compeer delivers a Mental Health First Aid session in a classroom on the Baker Victory Services campus in Lackawanna.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Everybody should go through the training at some point in their life.  I know it is a cliche – it can save lives – but it absolutely could,” said Timothy Boling, CEO, Compeer International   

Boling tells WBFO News they've had a great deal of interest for their Mental Health first aid eight-hour training program, especially for educators. 

Compeer has provided training for about 22-hundred people over the last three years. One in five youth will be affected by a mental health problem.  50-percent of those problems begin before the age of 14.

“One in 12 teenagers will make some type of suicide pact while they are in high school – one in 12 – they actually write out the plan on how they are going to do that and suicide is the second leading cause of death for middle school and high school student nationally, so when it comes to go to the dentist, get your checkups, get to the gym, get in good shape, but when it comes to mental health we kind of skip over that. We don’t treat it as the priority it needs to be,” remarked Boling.  

Compeer delivers a Mental Health First Aid session in a classroom on the Baker Victory Services campus in Lackawanna.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Compeer has 51-sites worldwide, but is headquartered right here in Buffalo on Delaware Ave. Compeer's main service matches individuals diagnosed with a mental illness with a trained volunteer, providing one-to-one support.

“Early intervention is key when it comes to mental health, so the earlier folks can get the help and support they need in an appropriate manner the better outcomes they are going to see. Most people go almost ten years in their lives without getting the right level of support,” Boling explained.

“I think the take-away for anyone who participates is just feeling more confident that they can do something,” stated Cheri Alvarez, Chief Program Officer at Compeer.   

"You are more likely to experience someone having a panic attack then a heart attack," stated Cheri Alvarez, Chief Program Officer at Compeer.

She tells us far too often people don't want to talk about a mental health situations, but Alvarez said the first aid program can change that.

“It gives anyone, regardless of the profession they are in, the tools to be able to support anyone else in our community – it could be a neighbor, a family member, someone at work because you are more likely to experience someone having a panic attack then a heart attack, so just knowing what to do in that situation,” Alvarez said.

Compeer delivers a Mental Health First Aid session in a classroom on the Baker Victory Services campus in Lackawanna.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Inside a classroom on the Baker Victory Services campus in Lackawanna those working on the 'front lines’ with youth each day are learning how to identify those who may have a mental health issue or crisis.

“Having this type of training for our staff is very important because we have a demographic of about 90-percent women here at Baker Victory, a lot of whom are parents themselves. They’re dealing with trauma with the kids they are working with,” remarked Patricia Randle, Chief Administrative Officer at Baker Victory Services with Human Resources.

Baker victory has a wide-range of students from pre-school up to age 21 and they deal with many different behaviors.

“You know a lot of what you may think is typical behavior, but when you are trying to put structure around a classroom setting, they become frustrated easily and so they act out that way and then as you move up the spectrum – of course in the school age education programs you’re going to see a lot more violent behavior – you’re going to see a lot of gang-type behavior, where they will start to connect with peers who have similar issues,” Randle described.

“Kids live in the moment, so they act without thinking – often as a parent you might catch yourself saying ‘what we’re you think?’ – well the answer is – they weren’t,” Stacy Essex added.

Essex is clinical director of the residential treatment facility at Baker Victory.   

“Their brain isn’t fully developed. They think in the moment. They don’t think about the consequences of their behavior. Their frontal lobes don’t get fully developed until early to mid-20’s and that’s where you’re able to project out consequences of your behavior,” Essex noted. 

Compeer delivers a Mental Health First Aid session in a classroom on the Baker Victory Services campus in Lackawanna.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

The language used when working with a youth or anyone that is having mental health difficulties is very important.  For instance you should ask “what happened?" not "what's wrong with you?"

They might start telling you a story that is difficult to hear and if your mouth is gapping opened or if you have this look of horror on your face or they feel like your judging them they are just going to shut down, so you really have to mindful of your body language, your facial expression and listening – you know let them talk, don’t interrupt and be comfortable with silence. A lot of people feel that they need to fill in gaps of silence,” Essex replied.   

“I think also for adults we always want to solve a problem for someone. We always want to be the one that gives them the solution that’s going to solve the issue and it’s sitting back and saying I don’t have to have the solution for them, I need to just listen and stay open to what their concerns are,” Randle responded. 

Compeer is working to train more staff to deliver the mental health first aid program to keep up with the demand and capacity.  It has requested a grant proposal to the New York Health Foundation, seeking funding to expand its training to 20-sites in the state.

One million people in the U.S. have been trained in Mental Health First Aid, but there's a goal to make this training as common as CPR in communities across the nation. 

For those seeking help, Crisis Services hotline: 716-834-3131 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides help to those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call 1-800-273-8255.  The Mental Health Association of Erie County also lists numbers for those in crisis with Spectrum Human Services. Spectrum  will provide around the clock (24/7) support and services to all youth under the age of 18 in Erie County through the C.A.R.E.S. Team.

24/7 Crisis Hotlines

YOUTH UNDER 18: SPECTRUM CARES 882-4357

ADULTS: CRISIS SERVICES 834-3131

ADDICTION HOTLINE: 831-7007