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Invisible wounds: Peterson AFB offers Mental Health First Aid class

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Check your wingman’s six. Look out for your battle buddy.

Military members are often reminded to watch out for fellow Airmen and to check up on them and their families. But do they know what to do if they encounter a mental health emergency while in the process?

Mental Health First Aid Colorado is offering classes through the Resilience Operations Office at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, specifically targeting its military demographic. Peterson AFB is the first Air Force base in the area to start the military-focused program. MHFA has currently been running for two years at the installation. Now, it is being offered at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

MHFA came to the U.S. in 2008 as an evidence-based course designed by a group of various psychologists and therapists. In 2011, the military module was created to focus on the specific needs of those who work for and live with the military.

The goal of MHFA is to increase the knowledge on mental health issues, while reducing the stigma attached to them. It also provides tools to the public to help anyone in need.

“One in four people are affected by mental health, so we all know someone going through a mental health crisis,” said Reginald Graham, MHFA Colorado instructor. “This course is a great way to teach people how to start that conversation with someone currently going through a mental health crisis. It teaches people how to help their fellow Airmen get through each crisis to keep suicide numbers from going up.”

The course is highly interactive. Training obtained from the class can be used in the members’ personal and professional lives. The focus of the class is to teach people how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental distress and how to positively intervene. Participants learn non-judgmental communication and listening skills to use during any mental health emergency. They are also given local, state and national resources to help with behavioral health.

The course offered through Peterson AFB has special modules for military and veterans. MHFR’s focus is on getting the tools needed for recognizing mental health challenges and getting access to the various services offered throughout local communities. The normal scope of mental health issues is covered, but the course additionally includes deployments, suicides and how the differences between everyday military and civilian jobs can create anxieties and depression.

“The military has made progress with mental health but it’s still not where it needs to be,” Graham said. “Many people still feel that they cannot speak freely on the subject. This course takes the specifics of military life and teaches its participants how to initiate conversation.”

This particular course is taught only by individuals who have ties to the military. Graham is a retired Air Force major and has taught the course for two years.

“We’re not looking for clinicians to teach this course,” Graham said. “We want people who can speak the language of the participants. It also makes them more credible to their audience because they’ve been there.”

Graham encourages anyone involved with the military to attend this course, including civilians and family members.

“Especially families,” Graham insisted. “They are often going through the mental health crisis alongside their military member. They are the first line of defense.”

The course is eight hours long and awards a certificate in Mental Health First Aid. The certificate is valid for three years.

By cultivating empathy, understanding and the ability to intervene during mental health emergencies, MHFA is a great tool to add to any Airman’s arsenal in looking out for their wingman.

To register for an upcoming class at Peterson AFB or to get any additional information, contact Beverly Price, Resilience Operations Director, at 719-556-6768.

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