Becky Ulrich on the goals and importance of mental health first aid training

Joshua Boulet, staff writer

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

NGU’s TIm Brashier campus is hosting a mental health first aid course on Feb. 22 for 911 dispatchers, first responders, police officers and others who would use these skills. I spoke with Becky Ulrich in the wake of that class about her experience, why NGU is hosting the class and the class itself.

“I was one of 16 physician assistants nationwide chosen by the PA [physician assistant] foundation . . . and we received grants to go up [to Washington DC] and learn how to teach mental health first aid,” Ulrich explained. All involved in the training were certified to be instructors to teach the intensive eight hour course.

“Part of our grant was to go out into communities and teach at least a hundred people in adult mental health first aid. I also received a second grant to pay for books, lunch and hopefully to teach 200 more people,” said Ulrich.

Because of her credentials as the director of the PA program, NGU let Ulrich host the classes at the Tim Brashier campus.

She expounded that the class itself is focused on teaching the average person how to deal with a mental health crisis. “So let’s say you’re at church and someone begins having a panic attack. How do you, as a general person in the public, go up and help that person and begin that conversation of ‘I believe you’re having a panic attack, what do we do next?’ It’s to start the conversation.”

The class itself is based around the acronym, ALGEE: “Assess for risk of suicide or harm, listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help [and] encourage self-help and other support strategies,” explained Ulrich. The strategies apply for everybody, but there are separate divisions for youth and adults. Even among adults, there are many modules that focus on different sets of people.

In the class on Feb. 15, Ulrich took the healthcare modules from each section and applied it into the course. The goal is to “give someone confidence” to go and help those in need.

The previous class and the class on Feb. 22 are fairly similar according to Ulrich, but they have different focuses. Ulrich also noted another class she will teach in April that focuses on college students. The importance of this class is highlighted by the statistic that “75 percent of mental illnesses are developed by age 24.”

Ulrich stated how it is vital that mental health is diagnosed and treated more promptly. It can be 10 years or more between someone developing a mental illness and actually getting treatment. 18 percent of people in the next year will experience depression alone. This is classified by if the symptoms damage a person’s school life, social life or work.

It can manifest differently in different people. “Your picture of depression might be different from my picture of depression. I’m a marathon runner and I experience the death of a family member. My episode of depression might be that i haven’t ran in two months. My getting back to recovery would be starting to run three times a week again,” Ulrich explained in the form of an example.

Ulrich wants to break the stigma around mental health. “In your lifetime, there is a 50/50 chance that you will experience mental illness. It’s that common.”