Knowing how best to respond to a mental health crisis is the idea behind the first wave of training geared to reach more than 1,000 west suburban residents in the next 12 months.
Instructors from the National Council for Behavioral Mental Health held classes, beginning Oct. 28, to certify 30 representatives from area human services agencies, schools, senior and youth programs and counseling centers.
Those who complete the program, in turn, will conduct at least 45 trainings in their respective communities in eastern DuPage and western Cook counties, beginning in December.
“It’s an opportunity to really saturate our community with information about mental health issues and what are the resources available to help,” said Greg DiDomenico, president and CEO of the Community Memorial Foundation, based in Hinsdale.
The impetus for the training came after the suicides of three teens or young adults from the La Grange area in the past year, as well as the Sandy Hook School shootings in December.
The training covers recognition of the signs and symptoms of a variety of mental health issues, though suicide certainly poses the greatest risk, DiDomenico said.
The foundation joined with the La Grange Rotary Club and the Mental Health Commissions of Lyons and Proviso townships to provide about $50,000 for training and materials.
“There’s no funding at the state or national level, so the local funding is leading the way for the training,” said Ron Melka, director of the Lyons Township Mental Health Commission.
The training sessions also are designed to erase the stigma associated with mental health issues and reluctance to seek treatment, Melka said. A comprehensive list of resources will be offered, including national crisis hotlines and local contacts.
“This is called Mental Health First Aid, just like CPR training,” DiDomenico said. “We’re hoping to create some parity in terms of going to the doctor for mental health, just as you would if you have high blood pressure or diabetes.”
Once the 30 trainers are certified, sessions will be presented to law enforcement personnel and first responders, healthcare providers, schools, parents and faith-based groups.
“There’s no cost for a program,” DiDomenico said. ‘We’re asking a host group to supply the space and have coffee available. It’s an eight-hour program that can be done in two sessions or broken down further.”
Louise Starmann, director of social services at Aging Care Connections in La Grange, said she wanted to take the training because she sees a need to break down older adults’ stereotypes of mental illness.
“For a lot of the older adults we work with, mental health issues are vastly untreated,” Starmann said. “They think, ‘if I’m crazy, my independence will be taken away.’”
Officer Michael Coughlin of the Hinsdale Police Department said he signed up for the training because he sees a lot of students and young adults with mental health issues.
“There’s a stigma with people who have mental health issues that they could be crazy or a zombie, but you just need to assess the situation and see how you can help,” Coughlin said. “You need to take time to talk to them and get them the help they need.”
To schedule training, contact Gale Christoff at the Community Memorial Foundation at (630) 654-4729.