Leadership / 06.08.22
Lifesaving Resources and Conversations, Part 2: Mental Health First Aid for the Entertainment Industry
Editor’s note: May was Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, but the issues and concerns in our business transcend all dates, boundaries and time zones. This two-part series is based on our recent INTIX with IATSE webinar. It shares important resources that can help you to help yourself, your staff, your co-workers and your colleagues. As said in our webinar invitation, INTIX wants this information to reach and help the live entertainment professionals who may need it most. The conversation, tools and resources in this series may save a life.
What comes to mind when you think of first aid? If you are like most people, you probably think of someone racing to provide CPR after someone has a heart attack or to stop the bleeding when someone is injured, perhaps in a car accident. It is, in effect, a stopgap measure that can keep someone alive while you wait for professional healthcare workers to arrive on the scene. But have you ever thought about the need for first aid for someone who may be deeply depressed, having an anxiety attack, showing signs of alcoholism or experiencing some other mental health or substance use issue?
Mental Health First Aid is relatively new. It was developed in Australia by Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm in 2000. Since then, it has progressed as a global movement that provides accredited mental health training programs in two dozen countries, including the United States and Canada. In total, more than four million people worldwide have been trained to date.
There is only one organization that provides mental health first aid training specifically for the entertainment industry, and that is the Behind the Scenes Foundation, which recently joined with IATSE as well as other organizations and individuals to launch a mental health and suicide prevention initiative. The foundation offers a wide variety of tools and resources that you will find helpful in talking about and dealing with mental health issues in the workplace. But IATSE international education rep Hannah D'Amico notes that there is a 10-to-12-year average delay between symptom onset and treatment for mental illness. That, D’Amico says, “is really where mental health first aid can come in so you are able to identify if someone is at the beginning of a mental health crisis and get them the help they need before it is too late, before they start contemplating suicide, before they really begin to have a mental health crisis.”
As noted in part one of this two-part series, those who work in the arts, design, entertainment, sports and media have the third highest suicide rate. One contributing factor, according to researchers, is the widespread use of drugs and alcohol.
“Mental health first aid is the initial help offered to a person developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a mental health crisis,” D’Amico says. “The first aid is given until appropriate treatment and support are received or until the crisis resolves. Similar to first aid, this is not about you treating or curing the person. This is about you taking the initial steps toward bringing that person to the appropriate help and care that they need and, like first aid, knowing what to do in those few seconds can really save a life. This is the same thing. Being able to identify these issues that a person is experiencing and getting them help as soon as possible is crucial and critical to saving their life.”
What You Will Learn
The Mental Health First Aid course incorporates the five-step ALGAE action plan which D’Amico outlined as follows during the recent INTIX with IATSE webinar presentation (watch the on-demand recording and/or access slides and resources from the webinar):
“ALGAE is the acronym to help you remember it. First is ‘A,’ assess for risk of suicide or harm. ‘L’ is listen non-judgmentally, and this one is really important because it … can be hard to listen, not just to respond, but to really listen non-judgmentally and take in what this person is telling you. This is a really key thing toward actually hearing a person out and deciding without judgement what the next step should be. Next is [‘G’] to give reassurance and information. Let this person know that they are not alone, that you are here to help, and that there is help available. Fourth is to encourage appropriate professional help. I would argue that this may be the most important because you are the mental health first aider, and you really want to get this person toward professional help. And the next is to encourage self-help and other support strategies.”
D'Amico stresses that early intervention is a key factor as it can help prevent a more serious situation.
“Mental Health First Aid certification is knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health challenge,” she says. “Knowing how to reach out and start a conversation. It can be really hard if you don't have the tools or the language to talk to someone about their mental health or their substance use.”
D’Amico says you may observe that a person’s “texting is weird, their Facebook posts are different than usual, they are just irritated, or something is clearly off or wrong with a person … and that is really where this can help. If you identify those kinds of first indications of a mental health crisis developing … you are able to apply what you have learned in the training and the ALGAE action plan to get that person to the appropriate professional help before it has gone too far.”
Who should get certified, you may be wondering?
“We would argue that everyone should get certified because it is very important training and you learn some great information about how to help people,” D’Amico says. “But it is particularly beneficial to … those in positions of leadership ... Anyone who is responsible for the safety of others and workers in high-risk environments, and I usually like to say you can consider the entire entertainment industry as a high-risk environment because you have people working non-traditional hours, long hours in different work situations. It gets very high paced, high stress.”
If you are interested in taking Mental Health First Aid training, visit the Behind the Scenes Foundation to learn more. The course is delivered in two parts. The first is a 2–4 hour, self-paced online course that must be completed prior to the second part, which is a six-hour virtual, live, instructor-led session. The registration fee is US$125. IATSE members and those working under IATSE agreements are eligible for reimbursement from the IATSE Training Trust Fund. Scholarships are also available to qualifying individuals not eligible for reimbursement. Training for Canadians is CAD$200 per participant and is available through the AFC. Some subsidized spots are available for the Canadian training.
One question that comes up for those who become certified relates to responsibility. Some people may be concerned that they could find themselves in a legal or ethical quagmire if they do or do not intervene. D’Amico says there is no reason to worry.
“[There is] not a mandatory or legal obligation to get involved,” she says. “Just because you have the certification, if you do not feel safe or able to get involved, you are not … legally obligated. It is not a medical degree for you. A first aider would not consider themselves to be a doctor and, similarly, a mental health first aider would not be a psychiatrist or a psychologist or someone who can diagnose … It is a training course to give you the resources to respond initially to a mental health crisis. It is not a certification to diagnose mental health problems. You need a professional to do that, and it is not a replacement for appropriate professional intervention … [but] you can get someone to the appropriate professional intervention that they need.”
Editor’s Note: Part 1 of this series, “Lifesaving Resources and Conversation, Part 1: Mental Health and Suicide Prevention for the Entertainment Industry,” is available here: https://access.intix.org/Full-Article/lifesaving-resources-and-conversation-part-1-mental-health-and-suicide-prevention-for-the-entertainment-industry.
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Tags: Leadership , Mental Health