On the news this evening, Antoinette Tuff is being hailed a “real hero” for how she handled a mental health crisis involving a young gunman who threatened others in a Georgia elementary school two days ago. She credited her ability to calmly handle the situation to God and the school’s emergency training.

Listening to her talk to the upset young man on the tapes they re-played, she really showed a remarkable level of understanding and concern as she offered help and safety. The young man told her he was off his mental health medication, and did not feel mentally stable. She shared her own experiences and personal struggles giving hope and encouragement to him. The event could have quickly turned into something horrific if it had not been for her ability to stay calm and show genuine caring and support.  Just as you would expect to see if someone had a heart emergency or car accident, she kept him safe until help arrived.

Author provided imageThe event made me think about how lucky I am to work at Policy Research Associates, where two weeks ago the company made it possible for all employees to be trained in Mental Health First Aid. It helped us all acquire the basic knowledge and skills to respond to an individual in distress. I believe the training took an already supportive group of people and moved them to the next level. It provided an opportunity for us all to think again about our preconceived ideas and knowledge about mental health issues, and helped to change attitudes.  Many of us have worked in the field of behavioral health for years and you might think “we know all that stuff”. Well what many of us found throughout the day was we still had some misconceptions and things to learn about handling emergency situations.

While none of us wish to be defined by our perceived conditions in our workplace, as a person in long term recovery, I was happy to see my coworkers enjoying the training. Hopefully one day soon, talking about having a mental health condition will be no big deal, and people with mental health conditions will be valued for their strengths without discrimination. Let’s hope for more people like Antoinette in our workplace and social networks who know what to say and do, and come from a place of empathy, love and respect when helping to prevent a crisis. Kudos Kristin, our PRA instructor, and to everyone behind the MH First Aid training at PRA, NCBH, etc. for all you did to raise our awareness and provide us with a great day of learning!

Donna is the Project Director for SAMHSA’s Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Technical Assistance Center at PRA.