Over 25% of Americans are currently living with a mental health disorder, said licensed clinical social worker Dawn Roy, but most people are unsure of how to properly address a mental health crisis.

In aiming to correct this community health issue, Ms. Roy will provide a two-day Mental Health First Aid course to be taught at Comstock Community Center on School Road, on Friday, June 7 and 14, from 9 to 4. The cost to attend is $100.

The Wilton Department of Social Services helped bring Ms. Roy to Wilton with the assistance of the Southwestern Connecticut Regional Mental Health Board. The program is backed by the National Council on Community Behavioral Healthcare.

Ms. Roy said this course is a 12-hour public education and certification workshop that improves a person’s ability to recognize and understand the most common signs and symptoms of mental health disorders.

This class is important because mental health emergencies are common in all walks of life, said Ms. Roy, who has a counseling practice in Fairfield. In fact, “you are more likely to encounter someone with a mental health issue than with a physical health issue,” she said.

In the course, attendees will learn a five-step action plan that addresses how to intervene during a mental health crisis.

“When a person takes a Red Cross CPR course, they learn ABC,” Ms. Roy said. “In this class they learn ALGEE, another pneumonic to help people remember the mental health first aid procedures they learn.”

ALGEE stands for:

• Assess for risk of suicide or harm,

• Listen nonjudgmentally,

• Give reassurance and information,

• Encourage appropriate professional help,

• Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

Ms. Roy said the biggest mistake people make when confronted with a mental health emergency is to “succumb to fear and run away,” when they could actually help the situation. She added that “people who have even one of the more severe mental health illnesses are more likely to be the victims of violence, rather than the perpetrators of a violent act.”

One of the largest problems associated with mental health disorders, she said, was people’s tendency to identify others by their disorders, rather than as an individual living with a disease.

While one might refer to a cancer patient as a person with cancer, people with mental illnesses are too often referred to simply as their disorder: a schizophrenic person or a bi-polar person. These kinds of identifications undermine people’s humanness and label them in a stigmatizing way, she said. People with mental illness should be referred to as having their illness rather than being their illness: a person with schizophrenia or a person who has bi-polar disorder, she said.

The lessons of the course are perfect for just about anyone, Ms. Roy said.

“Good mental health is everyone’s concern. This is something we should all be in support of. Life is stressful; we live in a stressful world. It would be tough to go through life without being affected by something that impacts our mental health.”

However, people in certain areas of work would stand to benefit even more from a mental health first aid class, she said, like police officers, college resident assistants, students, education professionals at all levels, and those who come in contact with mental health issues regularly.

The biggest gap in mental health education is in the business and corporate sectors of the workforce, Ms. Roy added.

“If I’m an employer at a major company,” she said, “shouldn’t I want to work with people who have an understanding of mental health?”

For more information on this mental health first aid course, call Ms. Roy at 203-331-7458 or email ladyroy@earthlink.net. To reach Wilton Social Services, call 203-834-6238.