Mental health classes offer help for veterans

First Aid module gives vets the tools to help others, themselves

Posted 11/5/19

The overall goal for veterans that take Community Reach’s Mental Health First Aid classes is to give them ways to help other veterans that are suffering. “It’s being able to recognize signs and …

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Mental health classes offer help for veterans

First Aid module gives vets the tools to help others, themselves


The overall goal for veterans that take Community Reach’s Mental Health First Aid classes is to give them ways to help other veterans that are suffering.

“It’s being able to recognize signs and symptoms and behaviors associated with a variety of different mental health challenges,” said Lindy Lewis, communications manager at Community Reach. “And then, through the training where they’ve had the opportunity to practice, we are raising their confidence so when they encounter somebody in crisis, they feel more confident to engage with that person.”

But a side benefit of the program, especially for veterans, is that it helps individuals recognize when they need help.”

“It’s trying to give them information from a non-threatening perspective,” said Jim Kuemmerle, a Community Reach Center senior services program manager and a veteran himself. “They can recognize it in someone else, or in themselves really, first off all. And the next step is to figure out what to do.”

The program is an extension of an idea that began in Australia in 2001, treating mental health training the way we treat general first aid. Everyone should know the basics — especially when to recommend someone seek professional help and where to seek that help.

Community Reach hosted a training session Nov. 1 in Commerce City, offering the program to veterans, current members of the military and their families, friends and those that work with veterans at Commerce City’s Bison Ridge Recreation Center.

Their course teaches how to respond to signs of mental health and addiction challenges with a specific focus on cultural factors related to military life and to locate mental health resources in Colorado that support veterans, military members and their families.

“We talk about the impact of compound stressers — traumatic event on top of traumatic event, one after another,” Lewis said. “That takes a toll on your mental wellness and here’s things to look for if it’s having an impact. Are you missing work? Are you not producing like you used to? Has it impacted your sleeping habits? Are you starting to self-medicate?”

It’s one of several modules on Mental Health First Aid Community Reach offers throughout the year, each tuned to specific audiences like youth or first responders. They offer the training at their locations, through employers or through community groups like Rotary clubs or Kiwanis.

The course is designed to counter stigma and teach skills to recognize signs and symptoms of mental health problems to assist those who experience depression, trauma or consider suicide. The course has increasingly becoming a part of law enforcement training in the United States.

As of September, Mental Health First Aid USA reported that more than 1 million people across the United States have been trained in Mental Health First Aid with a base of more than 12,000 Instructors.

Community Reach Center in Adams County reports more than 2,200 people have been trained since it began offering the course about seven years ago.

“It’s modeled on CPR training,” Lewis said. “CPR was developed to educate non-medical people to be able to provide a basic level of first aid. That’s the exact same intention of this, although it’s exclusively focused on psychological crisis. Just like most of us don’t have the good sense to have a heart attack in the emergency room, most people don’t reach the critical point in terms of suicidal thoughts sitting in a therapist’ office.”

The overall goal is same in all modules — teaching those with no background in mental health how to recognize issues. But different modules focus on the unique problems each group faces.

“The youth module is targeted for adults that have young people in their lives,” Lewis said. “So we get a lot of foster parents.”

The modules for veterans and first responders have one big difference from the others, she said. Both groups think externally, about how they can help others.

“So much of their attention is outward facing,” she said. “They are all tough guys, they can handle all this. But the curriculum brings up the fact that the jobs they do exposes them to a level of trauma that human brains are not meant experience. So here’s what burnout is going to look like and here is what is needed, for you or someone else, needs to do to treat it.”

Mental support for veterans

Kuemmerle said he knows the issues veterans face, both as a mental health profession and as a veteran. He served two stints in the military, first in a helicopter battalion in the first Gulf War and later as National Guard medical mobile unit’s behavioral health officer. In between, he worked as a licensed clinical social worker and a volunteer fire fighter.

“I blended the two together, the social worker and the first responder, and helped out my fellow responders,” he said. “That gave me the itch to get back in the military.”

He began focusing on mental for first responders early in his volunteer firefighting career.

“I experienced my first fatal fire call and I can remember it like it happened yesterday,” he said. “It was in a neighboring town and it was a fully involved multi-story apartment building. We pulled up, and there were people jumping.”

Later, during an incident debriefing, he called upon his mental health training.

“Things started clicking for me that maybe I need to be a better resource for my fellow first responders,” he said. “And I continued to do that from time to time, and I’d joke with my wife that if she ever saw an incident on the nightly news, she shouldn’t expect me for dinner. I didn’t even have call her, we both new that I was going to get called in.”

That led him to get back into the military.

“There are people that resist help,” he said. “They say, ‘The only way your are going to get me into a VA clinic is when I’m dead.’ So an important part of it all, if you are going to have conversation with someone, is knowing where the resources and help are. And then, you need to know the next step of how to get that person to the help.”


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