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Program aims to identify mental health issues in troops

May. 7, 2014 - 09:56AM   |  
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If you saw a service member or veteran struggling with substance abuse, post-traumatic stress or depression, would you know how to encourage them to get help?

A new program aims to teach educators, law enforcement officials and community workers to recognize the signs of mental illness and understand how to spur those affected to seek treatment.

Mental Health First Aid for Veterans was developed by troops for the National Council for Behavioral Health, modeled on a program for teachers, social workers and first-responders. The eight-hour program prepares individuals to recognize and respond to the warning signs of mental health conditions.

“When you are in the midst of suffering a mental illness, everyone knows it but you. And no one will tell you you need help,” said former congressman Patrick Kennedy, co-founder of One Mind For Research.

The curriculum teaches a five-step plan known by the acronym ALGEE: Assess risk of suicide or harm; Listen nonjudgmentally; Give reassurance and information; Encourage professional help; and Encourage self-help and other forms of support.

A 2008 Rand Corp. study found nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets reported symptoms of PTSD or depression, yet only half of those sought treatment.

The new training is helpful for anyone — not just those who come into contact with veterans, said former Marine Sharon Thomas-Parks, a course-instructor.

“It gives people the confidence to engage a person who is experiencing a mental health challenge and ask them, ‘Do you need help?’ ” Thomas-Parks said.

The course debuted April 30 in Iowa and will roll out nationwide throughout the year. Kennedy said it could “change attitudes toward mental health conditions.”

“We need to not look at it as a character issue but as a chemical issue. Their brain is ill, but they can get better,” he said.

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