Ottawa County class teaches ‘mental health CPR’

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — If someone was on the ground bleeding or choking, there would be no hesitation about calling 911. But when it comes to a mental health crisis, it can be hard to recognize when it is time to take action.

Now, thanks to money from a county health millage, Ottawa County residents will have a chance to get educated on what to do.

“A new program is starting in Ottawa County that will teach people how to recognize and respond to people in a mental health crisis,” said Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker. “Mental health calls for us are daily, whether they’re suicide attempts or people having breakdowns.”

In addition to being sheriff, Kempker was appointed by the governor to the Michigan Mental Health Diversion Council. He said early recognition of a mental health crisis can keep it from becoming a police issue.

“A lot of times people really don’t know how to respond, don’t know how to recognize when someone is having a crisis, might not know how to get help,” said Lynne Doyle, the executive director of Community Mental Health of Ottawa County. “This is definitely a way to get this information into the hands of people who might really be that first conversation an individual has about being depressed or anxious or wanting to harm themselves.”

The eight-hour class will show people how to recognize conditions including psychosis.

“So that folks are able to identify when somebody might be in one of those situations or when somebody might be suicidal,” said Anna Bednarik, community development director at Community Mental Health of Ottawa County. “It’s not easy to ask someone if they’re suicidal, but sometimes you have to ask that question to get someone the help they need.”

The classes are free and will be limited to about 25 people. They are based on a nationally accepted program called Mental Health First Aid.

“Just like CPR, once you’ve gone through that training, you’re just that much more comfortable becoming involved,” Doyle said.

The students could include church leaders, business managers and library workers, but the classes are open to anyone.

“It gives people the confidence to be able to go and talk to somebody who may be facing a mental health crisis and have the tool kit to be able to get them connected to resources out in the community,” Bednarik said.

Sheriff Kempker said the class could help law enforcement as well.

“I think it is important that people take a class like this, where they can recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and get people the proper treatment and help that they need because it can prevent tragedies down the line,” he said.

The class is expected to cost the county about $30,000 a year and comes from the mental health millage passed in March 2016.

Similar programs are run by Network180 in Kent County and HealthWest in Muskegon.

The first class is scheduled for May 24 at Herrick District Library in Holland. On June 14, the class will be held at Loutit District Library in Grand Haven and on June 21 at Gary Byker Memorial Library in Hudsonville.

Anyone interested in coming to or hosting a class can call Angie Schultz at 616.494.5574 or email her at

**Correction: A previous version of this article included an incorrect phone number for Schultz due to a misprint on a press release. The number is now correct.