EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Airmen with the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard received mental health first aid training Feb. 12-13 at the Atlantic City Air National Guard Base.
The two-day class was designed to address some of the unique aspects of military culture and give unit members the tools to help fellow Airmen who are facing mental health issues.
“The whole point of mental health first aid is to be able to train people to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and then take the appropriate actions using an action plan to give people hope and help and to connect them to resources,” said David Brimmer, a volunteer mental health first aid instructor with the Mental Health Association of New Jersey and a VA NJ Health Care System community outreach coordinator.
“It’s an accessible program that everyone can do. You don’t have to be a clinician. You don’t have to have any sort of mental health training. Just like CPR or physical first aid, it’s open to anyone.”
Students learned suicide and mental health statistics, physical and behavioral signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the disruptions in work, activities and relationships that can result if those symptoms go unnoticed and are left untreated.
“The whole framework of it is to learn the signs and symptoms and what to look for and how to approach,” said Erick Clark, a mental health first aid instructor and certified peer recovery practitioner with the Mental Health Association of Union County, N.J. “To see the person first. Not as their diagnosis. Not the cause of the symptom of the illness, but to see them as a person and not what they’re living with.”
The training was made possible by a grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Health Research and Educational Trust of New Jersey, in partnership with The Mental Health Association in New Jersey.
Members of another ANG unit in New Jersey, the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, received the training previously.
Jen Baldwin, the 177th FW director of psychological health, learned about the training and brought it to the Wing.
“As part of the Resilience Tactical Pause, this will help increase the opportunity for people to have access to the mental health first aid program,” said Baldwin. “The bottom line is that it’s not just about suicide; it’s about overall well-being, overall mental health. That’s what I like about this program. It’s not just hammering away on the risks of suicide; it’s about all the other risks that come with mental illness and looking at what those could be.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein spoke about the need to take care of Airmen on the “Blueprint Leadership” episode 2 podcast with Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright Dec. 27.
“If leadership truly is a gift that you need to re-earn every day, it means reaching out and connecting with our Airmen, big A, Active, Guard, Reserve and civilians, and then we’re going to have the most impact,” said Goldfein. “We’re going to get after this one Airman, one leader at a time.”
During the training, Brimmer, who deployed to the Middle East three times, shared stories of deployment challenges he was able to overcome.
“You can come in from any walk of life and learn the basics,” said Brimmer. “Mental health, in a nutshell, is like, ‘Be a good person,’ you know what I mean? Be a good person to other people. Try and help them when you can. It’s just that the mental health first aid is more structured, so there’s a consistent course out there for people.”