Recognizing the signs of mental illness

People participate in mental health first aid seminar. (Dec. 19, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — People battling with mental illness often don’t get the help they need.

Many times they don’t know how to ask for help and people around them don’t recognize the signs.

But in West Michigan more and more people are learning to listen, look and help those who are struggling with mental illness.

The Mental Health Foundation has helped bring a lot of awareness to the issue, including teaching groups of people about mental health first aid. They offer classes geared toward those who work with children and teens, as well as classes for recognizing the signs in adults. Statistics show that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14; three-fourths by age 24.

At the meetings they discuss eating disorders, depression, anxiety, bi-polar, schizophrenia and substance abuse.

Executive Director of the Mental Health Foundation Christy Buck is behind the well-known, anti-bullying “Be Nice” campaign.

“Tearing down the stigma. Breaking down the barriers. Making sure we get kids treatment before they get too ill,” said Buck.

During the mental health first aid seminars coaches, teachers and youth group leaders are learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to react when someone is struggling.

“How we respond to the kids can have a direct impact on what happens next for that kid,” said Eric Stiegel, a Grandville High School teacher and coach. “We can make the situation more positive, we can lead them in the right direction.”

Mental illness left untreated has played a deadly role in some of the largest tragedies in the world — the Newtown school shooting, the Aurora movie theater shooting, and possibly most recently the deadly siege in Sydney, Australia.

It has also led to many teen suicides in West Michigan.

“Just like we have a first aid plan if there’s a student athlete injured on the field, we need to have a plan in place for kids and not just wing conversations and that’s what I’m getting. We need to have a plan to help kids,” said Stiegel.

The Mental Health Foundation is hoping their courses on mental illness will become as common as first aid and CPR courses.

If you’re interested in taking a mental health first aid course, contact the Mental Health Foundation at 616.389.8601 or online.


Online: The Mental Health Foundation

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