City employees have opportunities to create connections with many members of the community. Through these connections, city employees are in unique positions to provide help when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. But how can city employees get the tools needed to provide that assistance?
Akmed Khalifa is an instructor for Mental Health First Aid, a program that gives people tools to provide aid during a mental health crisis, and he took some time to talk about the upcoming eight-hour workshops that the League will be hosting around the state.
How does Mental Health First Aid prepare people to provide help in a crisis?
First, the concept of Mental Health First Aid is to provide help to someone developing a mental health problem or experiencing a crisis, so we prepare people to offer first aid in a crisis until appropriate help can be reached. The goal is to give you the skills to recognize warning signs of a mental illnesses crisis and the ability to say “I know what’s happening, I recognize these signs, now I know what to do.” The purpose isn’t to teach people to diagnose mental illnesses, but instead to provide them with a variety of skill and tools, to help someone who may be experiencing a crisis. Not only are you given the tools to connect to appropriate professional help, you’re given tools to offer help and what can be done. There is detailed information on how to de-escalate a crisis, and what words to use in many different situations.
Why do you feel this training is important for city employees?
Mental illness is an everyday situation and affects everyone, which is why this audience is so great. This was made for everyone, not just people who are already first responders. People in these roles connect with many community members, it’s likely that they’ll connect with someone who can be helped with the skills they’ll get in these workshops.
What sort of need have you seen for this training in Minnesota cities, and what impact have you seen it have as more people are trained?
There is a high demand for the class across the state. Part of what we do is to help people understand that mental illness is much more common than we think and that we all experience anxiety or depression, but there’s a difference between that and having depression. A big part of these workshops is to recognize that difference, and to understand what next steps you can take. You’ll develop active intelligence—you’ll be able to act on the information you get in this eight-hour training, plus you’ll have materials to refer to so you can provide the best help.
What sort of impact have you seen Mental Health First Aid having in the community?
Shortly after my co-teacher started instructing these workshops, one student put this knowledge to use to help someone at her church who was thinking about suicide. She used the words in the manual, understood the needs the person in crisis had, connected the person with appropriate professional support, and that person then got treatment. The great thing about Mental Health First Aid is that you can put it into action to make a difference in the community.
Want to know more about Mental Health First Aid? Visit the League’s website to find out about workshops scheduled this fall.
Akmed Khalifa is a Fairview Health Services Youth Grief Services Camp coordinator focusing on expanding the program into North Minneapolis. Akmed has spent the past 40 years counseling and mentoring young adults in both community and educational settings. Akmed is an educator and trainer with experience ranging from serving as adjunct faculty at Metro State University to being a certified diversity trainer who has taught City of Minneapolis employees, Bloomington Public Schools staff and others.
This Q&A was originally posted in 2017, and has been updated with new links to the 2018 workshops.