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Watch now: Mental health first aid classes aim to fill gaps in coverage

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Mental Health First Aid

Local medical and mental health professionals are encouraging people to attend mental health first aid classes. The classes teach individuals how to better identify and respond to mental health issues they see in themselves and other people. 

Danielle Hill found "community" by volunteering for Integrity Counseling.

BLOOMINGTON — The institutional problem is clear: Amid a high demand for mental health services, there is a shortage of options as provider schedules and waiting lists fill rapidly. 

The reasons vary, ranging from an uptick in need related to the COVID-19 pandemic to a shortage of mental health professionals practicing in the field. 

The National Council for Behavioral Health put it this way: "The coverage of, and increasing demand for, psychiatric services is occurring at the same time as a growing shortage of outpatient and inpatient programs." 

Also growing is a shortage of providers who specialize in treating children's mental health issues.

The American Psychiatric Association estimates there are around 8,000 child psychiatrists in the U.S., with a need estimate of about 30,000 people. 

It's not a total fix to the problem, but local medical and mental health professionals are pointing to an individuals-oriented class as a means of helping the situation. 

Mental health first aid courses have been offered in McLean County for the past 14 years, equipping about 2,500 people with tools to identify and respond to mental health issues — either within themselves or in other people. 

On Tuesday, a youth mental health first aid course will be offered at Carle Health and Fitness Center, alongside the McLean County Mental Health First Aid Collaborative. It's designed for "adults who typically interact with youth ... (and is) specifically designed to help young people (ages 12-18) experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or in crisis."

The same course will also be offered Aug. 26 at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center. 

"Young adults have been disproportionately affected (by depression, anxiety and other issues)," said psychiatrist Girishkumar Dhorajia, who practices at Carle BroMenn Medical Center. "If you just focus on that age group, 5.6 out of 10 people are affected by, you know, anxiety, depression, nervousness — some sort of mental distress." 

He and other professionals encourage people to take the course as a means of not only learning how to identify issues, but also how to respond. 

"It kind of gives you a sense of other resources that are available in between," Dhorajia said. "Sometimes, you really need help now. And if there is no one who can understand you while you're waiting for an appointment, then your chances of having that mental health crisis just get worse — versus if we have some basic level of care, then we can allow them to maintain a sense of safety and security until they get to the professional level of care." 

Carle Community Health Director Sally Gambacorta said participants who take the class are surveyed about six to 12 months afterward and asked whether they feel comfortable and empowered to talk to others about mental health concerns. 

"The majority of individuals still feel comfortable referring somebody or talking to them about mental health or substance use issues," she said. "There's a variety of different questions that are asked, but the consensus is overall very positive that they still have retained information."

Tuesday's course will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cost is $12 and includes materials. Registration is required. For the Carle course, registration can be done online; for the OSF course, interested people should call 309-661-5151.

"Everyone, as a human being, needs to be aware of mental health because everyone, even somebody who does not have a mental illness  — mental health is still important for them," Dhorajia said. "Mental health is something that, if you don't take care of it, that's when the mental illness could happen." 


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