Dr. Robert Harrison, a Westerly Hospital physician for 32 years and our Guest Speaker Monday evening, introduced the membership to a National Council for Behavioral Health program established in 2016 called Youth Mental Health First Aid.  Similar to CPR and other physical first aid applications, this program was developed to teach "how to identify signs of mental illness and how to talk about it".  The training, he said, is for anyone who is interested; however, he has trained about 170 members of the Westerly schools as well as police officers from Westerly and neighboring areas.
 
Mental health first aid focuses on ALGEE - a five-step action plan:
         Assess for risk of suicide or harm
         Listen nonjudgmentally
         Give reassurance and information
         Encourage appropriate professional help
         Encourage self-help and other support strategies
 
Dr. Harrison said "it is better to ask, 'Are you considering suicide?' rather than 'Are you thinking about hurting yourself?'"  The statistics are staggering - "children in the United States between the ages of 10 and 14 are as likely to commit suicide as they are to die in a car crash."  "Washington County has the highest suicide rate of the state's five counties."
 
The training sessions, generally offered free due to grant funds, emphasize ways to de-stigmatize mental illness.  The program is designed to "help people to notice and to give them the confidence to say something".  The course, an 8-hour session usually divided into 2 4-hour sessions, "teaches participants the risk factors and warning signs of a variety of mental health challenges common amoung adolescents, including anxiety, depression, psychosis, eating disorders, AD/HD, disruptive behavior disorders, and substance use disorder." For more information or to find a course, go to https://www.mentalhealthfirstaidorg.
 
As always, Westerly Rotary memorializes a Speaker visit with a presentation of a book from the Westerly Children's Library and a picture with the Club President.  Unfortunately, despite taking two pictures, they were both pretty awful; so my apologies to Dr. Harrison.  Maybe he will come back again some time.
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