Milwaukee Magazine: 10 Medical Breakthroughs

From cancer-detecting wands to co-sleeping pods and lifelike mannequins, Milwaukee is forging a new wave of medical marvels. The future of health care starts now.

January 21, 2013

by Carolyn Bucior

(View breakthroughs 1-9 on the Milwaukee Magazine website here.)

10. First aid for mental health

In 2012, Rosanne Norwood became the first person to offer a specific type of first-aid training in Milwaukee. But the course was different than the familiar American Red Cross first-aid training. Norwood, a certified mental health first-aid instructor, held a 12-hour training course to instruct people on how to deal with mental health emergencies. “One in four people will have a mental health disorder during any given year,” says Norwood, who manages Project Bridge at Community Advocates. “It’s your neighbor. Relative. Co-worshipper.”

The course was designed to train people to recognize and respond to someone dealing with a psychiatric crisis or an untreated mental health or substance abuse issue. Mental health first-aid courses have been taken by individuals in the general public and by groups including college resident advisers, faith community leaders, law-enforcement professionals and primary care professionals.

The most prevalent conditions, Norwood notes, are anxiety and depression but also include suicidal behavior, psychosis and eating disorders. Norwood’s initial classes were held for people working at homeless shelters, but she quickly started to field calls wanting the course offered elsewhere, including at two local colleges.

Mental health first aid originated in Australia in 2000 and has since spread to at least 20 other countries, according to Susan Partain, director of mental health first-aid operations at the National Council for Behavioral Health in Washington, D.C., the agency that oversees most of the programs in the United States. “The growth has been tremendous,” she says. Since 2008, when the program reached the U.S., more than 2,500 instructors in 49 states have trained 80,000 people to be mental health first-aid responders. On average, about 100 people complete the evidence-based program daily.  

In 2012, Norwood rolled out a program for people who work with youth 12 to 18 years old. The current class teaches students how to connect with a person in crisis and how to encourage the person to seek help. The class also includes community resources and a lesson in mental health literacy – understanding and recognizing various disorders. “After training, people feel more confident to provide help,” Partain says. “They are better at recognizing when there is a problem and how to help the person.”

Norwood was Milwaukee’s first mental health first-aid instructor, but seven other instructors have been trained in Wisconsin to handle this facet of emergency health care. “Only 41 percent of people with mental health issues ever get treatment during their lifetime,” Norwood says. “It could take weeks, months, years. The median time for people to get help is 10 years. It doesn’t have to be so.”



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