The workshops will be held in room 110 inside the Weese Building at Treasure Valley Community College. (The Enterprise/File)

ONTARIO – Two free workshops designed to teach people what to do when someone is going through a mental health crisis are coming up in Ontario.

Registration is open for the Adult Mental Health First Aid workshop, scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 23. A workshop focused on youth mental health is set for Thursday, Feb. 13.

Both classes run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Room 110 of Treasure Valley Community College’s Weese Building.

Lifeways has put on the grant-funded workshops several times a year for at least six years, said Paula Olvera, a prevention specialist at the Ontario mental health services provider.

“Mental health problems are much more common than most people realize,” said Olvera, who has taught the Mental Health First Aid classes for the last four years.

Statistically, you are more likely to encounter someone going through a mental health or emotional crisis than you are to encounter someone having a heart attack, Olvera added.

Olvera said the numbers in Malheur County are on par with national statistics, which say that about 1 in 5 Americans will suffer from a mental illness in a given year.

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But Malheur County’s remote location means that there’s not as much access to services to meet the need, she said.

Oregon overall is listed as second-worst in a 2020 ranking made by the nonprofit Mental Health America. Only Nevada fared worse. The low ranking indicates a high prevalence of mental illness and low rates of access to care.

Olvera said Mental Health First Aid training gives people some direction for how to help themselves or loved ones with mental health or addiction struggles.

“We give people the ways to look for signs and symptoms, we talk about risks and protective factors, how to access help for someone who might be in a mental health crisis or developing one,” Olvera said.

The Mental Health First Aid program was developed in Australia in 2001, and was brought to the U.S. in 2009. The training includes workshops specifically tailored to mental health in different segments of the population such as senior citizens, law enforcement and first responders.

Olvera said more people are reaching out for this kind of education.

“It’s becoming more acceptable, and less stigmatized,” to talk about mental health, said Olvera. “That’s one of the goals of the training.”

She said what strikes her the most is the gratitude she sees among participants. In surveys after the trainings, attendees frequently write that they felt less alone knowing others in the community were going through similar circumstances.

Olvera said the workshops have been popular. They’re capped at 30 participants and usually around 20 to 25 attend, though at times she’s seen a waiting list. Counties in rural Idaho have also requested the training and Olvera and her colleagues have offered it there.

“There is help,” said Olvera. “We just want the education to be out there. There are so many people who are struggling and sometimes loved ones don’t know how to help, so this is a chance to give them that direction.”

Hotline to help

To get help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. There is also a crisis text line. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

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