Responders ready for mental health crisis

Courtesy NAMI Kauai

Recruits of the Kauai Fire Department display their certificates of completion upon completion of the National Alliance on Mental Illness course on mental health first aid. Standing from left are Alden Lind, Drew Nakahara, Jeffrey Kakuda, Donovan Silva, Christian Marston, Michael Carvalho and Kathleen Sheffield, executive director of NAMI Kauai. In front from left are Charles Dubocage, Kai Adachi and Chase Bohn.

LIHUE — Kauai Fire Department recruits are among those first responders who have received training from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, completing their two-day course on mental-health first aid.

The recruits were taught to recognize the signs and symptoms of people who are experiencing mental health crises and to utilize skills learned in the course to properly respond, de-escalate and defuse crises.

Other responders who may benefit from the course are police, emergency medical technicians, hospital staff, legal responders, and others with organizations that generally interact with the public, such as schools, churches and workplace, according to a NAMI spokesperson.

The Maui Police Department developed the first crisis-intervention team in the state in 2916, based in part on NAMI’s mental health first aid course.

“Evidence has shown that first responders can defuse a mental-health crisis if they have the knowledge and skills to handle it,” said Kathleen Sheffield, executive director of NAMI Kauai, who administers the course.

Kauai police, with no other options, usually handcuff the person in mental crisis, arrest them, then bring them to a holding cell at Kauai Police Department headquarters, or to the Wilcox Medical Center emergency room, where there are no current behavioral health facilities, Sheffield said.

“Hopefully, in the future, a crisis-intervention network will be formed, and all first responders will be able to turn to Wilcox’s renovated specialty spaces for behavioral health, or to the Samuel Mahelona mental health facility for behavioral health, both of which are now being proposed,” Sheffield said.

Contact for a schedule of the next mental-health first aid course, and a list of other courses offered by NAMI, such as “Families and Friends” and “Ending the Silence” for kids and school staffs. All courses include suicide-prevention skills.


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