Local students train to prevent suicide and other mental health episodes


Email info@mentalhealthfirstaid.org to request a training at your business, church, school or other organization.

The latest numbers show suicide rates are rising. New research published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health and Statistics shows that 33% more people commit suicide now than 20 years ago.

Tuesday, Students at Augusta University took a course on how to help prevent it. The program called Health First Aid is designed to give people the confidence and tools help someone who is struggling with mental illness or suicidal thoughts.

“More people commit suicide than are killed by homicide each year,” says Denise Kornegay. “This is a huge problem.”

Denise Kornegay is an Associate Dean at The Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. She is also a trainer for the internationally recognized program, Mental Health First Aid.

“The idea with Mental Health First Aid is that you can train more people to be aware and then know what to do because often times people will know something is wrong, but they don’t know what to do and this is a way of saying, don’t be afraid. this is how you can safely talk and interact,” Kornegay explains.

The lessons point out things you should do or say and also things you should not do or say with people who are mentally ill or suicidal. Often, your instinct is the wrong response. For example, you want to just tell someone “stop it,” or “snap out of it,” but that tends to make the situation even worse.

“We did an exercise. We had them practice on each other saying– ‘have you ever thought about suicide?’ They had a hard time because that’s something that’s just not comfortable. We know we’ve got to get passed that,” Kornegay says emphatically.

Kornegay got a state grant that pays for her to bring this training to students Meera Kuntawala.

“If we’re able to have a better understanding of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, you can just be a more compassionate and empathetic person. There are misunderstandings and misconceptions about how best to help somebody and there is a lot of fear that if we bring up some topic that is uncomfortable, we’re going to push someone towards a bad outcome and a lot of time it’s just discomfort that keeps us from asking the questions that need to be asked,” Kuntawala says.

As a future doctor, understanding practical solutions that give her the confidence to have those uncomfortable conversations, could save lives.

“It’s a lot easier for them to go to their doctor with a physical symptom like back pain or headache than to say that they are feeling unwell or depressed or sad,” Kuntawala points out.

Kornegay’s plan is to train any AU student interested in Mental Health First Aid as well as the staff at all of their clinical sites across the state.

The course on Tuesday, Augusta University students; however, anyone can take it.

CLICK HERE to find a course.

You can also request a training at your business, church, school or other organization. Email info@mentalhealthfirstaid.org.

Kornegay’s grant covers the training in an academic setting; however, you can host the training by simply paying for the course material.

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