By Tania Bohbot
I wish I could have seen the signs. I wish I could have helped.
I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how. What was I supposed to say? How could I have approached her?
I didn’t know how to be there. I still don’t know how to be there.
Seeing someone struggle is not easy. Being able to talk to someone in distress does not come naturally to everyone. When we are younger, we are taught how to help a physically injured person. We are required to be CPR certified when working at a camp, but we have never been taught how to help someone battling with their mental health. That person is expected to reach out to others: a guidance counselor, a therapist, a professional– and he or she is expected to do it all on his/her own.
The New York City Health Department has made it their duty to teach people how to help others through their program, ThriveNYC. Within this program, the New York City offers a free public education program known as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training.
MHFA is an 8-hour training session that teaches participants how to recognize the early signs and symptoms of mental illness and substance misuse. This training is not intended for people to diagnose others. Instead, it teaches trainees how to calmly engage in conversation with someone who might need help, and how to listen without judgement and be at someone’s side until that person can get the professional care that he/she may need.
The training aims to inform its trainees about how to identify, understand, and respond to a person struggling with mental illness. The instructors heading MHFA training go over suicide prevention, and discuss mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, psychosis, depression, mood disorders, and trauma. Trainees learn how to talk to someone in need, not how to diagnose. This is taught through group activities and role playing, so that participants can better understand how to deal with stressful situations, with the help of others around them.
There is a belief that once you have studied a disease or any topic from a book, you understand it. That’s not true. Life isn’t tests and exams, and mental illness isn’t always visible.
In any given year 1 in 5 adult New Yorkers have been diagnosed and have had to deal with mental illness. 1 in 5. That one individual could be your roommate, your teacher, or that person you see always with a smile on his/her face.
The first Mental Health First Aid training session to be held at Yeshiva University will take place on the Beren Campus on February 17, 2019. According to Dr. Yael Muskat, YU Counseling Center director, the session was originally meant to train 27 participants, but soon grew to 60.
If you would like to be certified but cannot attend the session taking place on Beren Campus, ThriveNYC offers free MHFA Initiative training to all New Yorkers. You may not be a psychology major or going pre-med, but that does not mean that you cannot help. Any one person who cares has the potential to change a life. MHFA Initiative training can be your first step; Your first step to being more aware of the people around you, their thoughts (and maybe even your own), how you talk to people, treat others, and how you want others to treat you.
Another important resource available to all YU students is the Counseling Center, available on both the Beren and Wilf campuses. If you or anyone you know needs a safe space, the contacts are below:
Beren and Cardozo Campus Counseling Center
205 Lexington Avenue (between East 32nd and East 33rd Street)
Phone: (646) 592- 4210
Wilf Campus Counseling Center
500 West 185th Street
Furst Hall, Suite 520