PCC offers mental health first aid program - Tucson News Now

PCC offers mental health first aid program

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Mental health, and spotting those who need help with mental health problems, has been a huge issue here in Tucson since the Jan. 8 mass shooting three years ago.

The president just signed a spending bill that includes money for a mental health first aid program in the U.S.

The bill provides $15 million to the program Arizona democratic representative Ron Barber introduced. Barber was among those wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011, mass shooting in Tucson.         

The federal bill creates a program similar to what's already happening at Pima Community College in Tucson.    

The PCC training is part of a series of initiatives to move forward from the Jan. 8 shooting. PCC already offers a mental health first aid class to faculty and staff.

Tuesday, the free class was open to the public for the first time.

The eight-hour-long course is intended to raise awareness, help remove the stigma sometimes associated with mental illness, and to give the average person the tools to approach a person and help that person get professional help if he needs it.

The stigma around mental illness can keeps people from talking about it, or even from helping someone they know or love. People often just don't know what to do or what to say.

The class being taught at PCC helps break through some of those barriers.

"I think if people talked about it a little more, I think it affects a lot more people than everyone wants to admit. But i think it would be a good thing if our society kind of opened up a little more about it," says Nathan Barnes who is taking the class.

"It's a really good thing for everyone to have that basic knowledge if you can apply that to learning a little bit more about mental illnesses, I think it would be a very helpful thing for our society," Barnes said.

Mark Krzympiec also signed up for the class.

"There [have been] specific circumstances that have taken place that I was kind of at a loss and didn't know what to do right on the spot. And that's one thing this class has done for me is give me the tools to go--ahh. Ok. This is what you do: A, B, C," Krzympiec said.

Like any first aid course, it's the basics, and it's possibly life-saving information.  

The psychologist who runs the class says when you want reach out to someone who may be having a mental health issue, you treat the situation in the same way you would when someone has a physical ailment.     

"You use the same technique. You just ask very directly and very clearly-- How can I be of assistance? I notice that there's something going on with you. What can we do to help you feel better? Just those kinds of basics in order to get the ball rolling to get towards professional help, if that's what's needed, says Psychologist and PCC Threat Assessment Director Dr. Jim Sanchez, who teaches the class.

"The history of mental illness has been one of stigma, one of folks being afraid, one of folks not wanting to help their friends and family and neighbors. So the more information that folks have, the more likely they are to reach out," Sanchez says.   

PCC will offer another free eight-hour class split over two days, next Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 27 and 28, from 8 a.m. until noon both days, in Room A109-112 of Community Campus at 401 N. Bonita Ave.

Classes are limited to 40 participants each. To register, call (520) 206-4624.

Dr. Sanchez says he hopes to be able to have a free mental health first aid class for the public every month.

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