health-exchangeAspenPointe announced the fundraising initiative for this year’s Heroes of Mental Health Luncheon will support its Mental Health First Aid training program, a need highlighted during this spring’s Mental Health Begins With Me community forums.

Mental Health First Aid is a groundbreaking public education program that helps the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders, and it’s free to participants.

This spring’s Mental Health Begins With Me community forum identified Mental Health First Aid as the best available, evidence-based program to address mental health needs in Colorado Springs.

“The action plans are being developed and the goal has been set — to get 600 members of our community trained through Mental Health First Aid in the next year,” said Lori Jarvis-Steinwert, executive director for National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, Colorado Springs. “By training another 600 in this one-day program, the hope is that we’ll equip people with knowledge and the tools that they need to understand mental illness and to respond in a helpful way when faced with someone who’s experiencing the symptoms. With education and awareness, we hope that we’ll minimize the fear and stigma, and help people understand how they can help.”

Increased funding for the program will allow AspenPointe to hire more trainers and purchase needed supplies and equipment for the program.

“Statistically, people with mental health conditions are far more likely to be the victim of a crime, rather than a perpetrator of one,” said Rachel Clements, AspenPointe’s Mental Health First Aid Coordinator. “But the more people who are trained to recognize mental health distress, the better chance we have of preventing someone from harming themselves or others.”

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Classes are open to anyone, and Clements says she’s taught MHFA to people ranging from police and firemen to military spouses and concerned parents.

“We’re not trying to teach people to be therapists,” Clements said. “We want to help people recognize signs of mental health crisis and the steps to take to help facilitate treatment. A lot of mental illness issues begin in adolescence, so the earlier you can recognize the signs and symptoms, the better.”

Clements says that an additional benefit of MHFA is that it helps  decrease stigma.

“People are afraid of what they do not understand,” she said.  “For the general public to have open conversations about mental health disorders and learn more about what it’s like to struggle with one takes away some of that uncertainty and fear. It decreases the stigma associated with mental health disorders  and, hopefully, that will in turn make it easier for individuals who may have a mental health disorder to reach out for support from their loved ones and seek appropriate treatment.”

AspenPointe started offering MHFA classes in 2009, and has trained more than 1,400 people in the region.

The Heroes of Mental Health Luncheon, which takes place Oct. 2 at the Broadmoor’s Broadmoor Hall, recognizes an individual in Colorado Springs who champions health and wellness. That person is a driving force in efforts to reduce stigma while assisting in growth of programs that treat mental illness, substance abuse, unemployment and homelessness.

AspenPointe will announce the 2014 Hero of Mental Health later this summer.