Program brings mental health classes to county

By MARTHA RASCHE
Special to The Herald

Kim Dietz’s sister was in her late 30s before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. By that time, she was self-medicating with alcohol and had threatened suicide multiple times.

She “had so many issues, you would think they couldn’t possibly all be in one person,” said Dietz, who lives in Jasper.

Despite her illnesses, Dietz’s sister was able to maintain a yearslong career in marketing, sales and photography. As her disorders progressed, though, she spent more and more time alone and then in mental health and addiction treatment centers. She died last year, at age 55.

Dietz has spent many years trying to understand her sister’s challenges as well as those of her mother, who has suffered severe depression and anxiety most of her life — and trying to figure out how best to help them.   

To try to keep others from going through the emotional pain that her loved ones have suffered, Dietz is one of four Dubois County volunteers newly trained to bring Mental Health First Aid USA classes to the county.

Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based program that teaches individuals how to help someone developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. Participants learn general knowledge about a variety of mental illnesses, how to recognize them and how to respond to them.

The classes are being sponsored through the Dubois County Public Health Partnership, which has identified mental health as a local health concern. The first course — eight hours split between two days — will take place next week. Classes will be offered again in early September.

Joining Dietz in leading the classes will be Kara Glendening, clinical supervisor and psychiatric social worker at Memorial Counseling Center; Amy Dilger, benefits and wellness coordinator at Best Home Furnishings; and Crista Linette, a human resources employee and safety coordinator at Meyer Distributing.

In explaining why she wanted to be a trainer, Dilger cited these statistics: One in five adults has a mental illness, and one in 10 full-time employees has an addiction.

“I wanted to bring Mental Health First Aid to the company I work for,” Dilger said. “My main motivation comes from our employees. Everybody has a story. Everybody has problems. Everyone has issues. I want to provide support to every employee with whom I come into contact.”

Dilger said class participants can expect to gain a greater understanding of the appropriate language to use “and how to use it when beginning conversations about mental health and substance use.” Mental Health First Aid, she said, “can help all of us develop those skills.”

As instructors, Glendening, Dilger and Linette are receiving support from their employers, which gave the women time off from work for the weeklong training they attended as well as for the classes they will lead.

Best Home Furnishings’ director of human resources, Dan Conway, said Dilger already has educated him and others at the company about mental illness. She shared basic statistics on mental illness in the adolescent population, for example, and “we know these are probably some of the things our employees are facing” in their families. If an employee’s work family can help him or her learn about addiction and appropriate help resources, Conway said, that employee can be more productive at work “because some of this won’t be on their mind.”

Substance use disorders, depression and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders and more are covered in the course.

Conway said Dilger will bring mental health knowledge directly to managers and key employees in the manufacturing process, such as line leaders — “the people who meet with the majority of our employees each day.”

Linette, who has worked in human resources for about 20 years, is used to employees coming to her when they don’t know where else to turn. She has found that more than anything, sometimes she just needs to listen, and be nonjudgmental. Mental Health First Aid training will make attendees more aware of signs of mental illness as well as resources available, she said.

Glendening added that people generally want to help and be supportive of someone who may be experiencing mental health issues or a crisis — but often avoid the situation because they are unsure of how to respond. The general education in mental health offered by the first aid course “will allow our community the opportunity to increase awareness and improve our overall response to mental health issues,” she said.

More specific goals of the program are to help prevent a mental health problem from becoming more serious, to promote and enhance recovery and to provide comfort and support. Those aims bring us back to Dietz, who believes that had her mother’s and sister’s mental illnesses been recognized and treated early on, their lives could have been very different.

Early intervention is key, Dietz said. “I feel that Mental Health First Aid is a valuable tool to educate our citizens about mental illness and addiction, making us less hesitant to approach and get involved with someone who is showing signs — perhaps getting someone to seek help before their struggle becomes a lifestyle for them.”

The knowledge gained through the course, she added “can also help us to be more compassionate and respectful towards those struggling with mental illness and addiction, and challenge us to give them hope and direct them to helpful resources versus the tendency sometimes to ignore, pass judgment or avoid getting involved.”

Members of the health partnership hope the Mental Health First Aid training will become ingrained in the community and that classes will be offered on an ongoing basis. Enrollment fees will be reinvested in the program to pay for the manuals participants receive, other supplies and instructor training.

Dubois County Health Department Administrative Director Donna Oeding points out that just as those who take a regular first aid training class do not need any background in health, those who take a Mental Health First Aid course don’t need any special knowledge about mental health. Just as someone trained in CPR can save a life, so can someone who knows how to spot signs of mental illness.

“You can be that difference,” Oeding said. “You can be that life saver.”

Mental Health First Aid Training

The first Mental Health First Aid training will be offered next week, with classes from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday at Memorial Hospital Southside Office, 1100 W. 12th Ave., Jasper. To receive credit for the course, one must attend both sessions.

Additional classes are scheduled for Sept. 7 and 8 at the same times and location.

The cost of the eight-hour training is $35 per person; financial aid is available for those in need. According to Memorial Hospital Director of Behavioral Health and Social Work Services Jodi Richardson, other areas charge up to $175 for the classes.

To register, email Dubois County Health Department Administrative Director Donna Oeding at dcoeding@duboiscountyin.org or call her at 812-481-7050.

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Martha Rasche is a member of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership Mental Health Committee and the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. With funding from the health partnership, she writes periodically on topics related to mental health. Read her blogs at TheseAreOurStories.com. Email her at mtrasche@twc.com.

 

 




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