Mental Health First Aid: addressing Montana's mental health cris - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Mental Health First Aid: addressing Montana's mental health crisis

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Rates for suicide, depression and overall mental health in the Rocky Mountain States are some of the worst in the country.

One in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness.  That can be anything from schizophrenia to severe depression. A new program is hoping to teach people how to treat mental health issues just the way you'd be able to treat a friend for a bee sting.

Experts say there are three main reasons the suicide rate is so high in the region.

“There is not enough professional help available, access to firearms, people are watching elevation as a contributing factor,” says Jen Preble.

Travis Emery was fighting a problem he didn’t even know existed in his own mind. As a diagnosed schizophrenic he now uses his time to help others who battle mental health issues.

He says many don’t realize the battles some people are facing.

“I didn't believe that I was hallucinating what I thought was a reality. it was a different phenomenon. If I could really explain schizophrenia and the voices phenomenon in a nutshell, just imagine something no one can see, hear, feel, or taste,” says Travis Emery.

It is similar phenomena that drove Michelle Gentry to the breaking point.

At first look Gentry is like many other women. She owns a business and helps out at a friend's restaurant. But you can see the scars from a much darker time.

“They blew off my shoulder,” says Gentry.

Gentry, like 25 million Americans, suffers from depression.

"It’s just something that's been in my life all my life... and I can't help that."

In October of 2013, she was at her worst. She had taken many sleeping pills and was threatening to take her own life.

When a friend reached out for help, police sent swat teams. Michelle was alone in her home with a handgun.

"I was at a bad place," says Gentry.

 After four hours of negotiations, she came out with the weapon.

 Police perceived her as a threat and fired 15 rounds, and she was hit twice.

"I just remember going down and everything went black."

Emma Kerr Carpenter is the community education coordinator for youth dynamics, an organization that focuses on youth in crisis.

"A person in a mental health crisis is normally not a danger to other people,” says Kerr Carpenter.

She says things often get worse for the mentally ill when police get involved. It's part of why she's teaching this course on mental health first aid.

"The hope with this course is that we can intervene earlier."

Much like first aid teaches basic medical stabilization skills like how to build a tourniquet or splint a leg, mental health first aid trains you to stabilize someone having mental health issues.

The basic strategy follows the acronym ALGEE. Which stands for "assess, listen, give reassurance and encourage the friend to seek professional self-help. Kerr Carpenter says listening is the most important.

"Listen with empathy and non judgmentally," says Kerr Carpenter.

These are skills Gentry says could have prevented her from being shot. The shooting left her shoulder badly damaged and gave her a drop foot-- but years later-- she says things are looking better.

"Now I've got the right medication, so life is good for me for the first time in 57 years.

We did speak to the police involved in the Michelle Gentry case. They say their goal is to resolve every crisis situation without anyone getting hurt.

Anyone can sign up for a mental health first aid class. Here is the Link.

Https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/take-a-course/

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