Turtle Wing Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization aimed at helping children with learning challenges in rural areas achieve their full potential. Some may wonder why mental health impacts the work of Turtle Wing. The main answer is that all of our community has a responsibility to be good neighbors. It is common for us to take a First Aid or CPR class just in case we need to help a family member or neighbor or coworker in need. Just the same, Mental Health First Aid is for all community members. Additionally, with families who have children or young adults with disabilities, it is very common for there to be a concurrent mental health diagnosis. Even though mental illness can be more common for people on the autism spectrum than in the general population, the mental health of autistic people is often overlooked. (This information is drawn from an article that first appeared in the Mental Health supplement of Your Autism Magazine, Vol 8(4), Winter 2014.) Anxiety disorders are very common amongst people on the autism spectrum. Roughly 40% have symptoms of at least one anxiety disorder at any time, compared with up to 15% in the general population. Understandably, this can lead to sadness or depression – one reason why a mixture of anxiety and depression is common. It is thought that a combination of factors, leading to vulnerability to stress, is likely to explain why anxiety disorders are so common in autistic people. Many people on the autism spectrum may have difficulty describing the symptoms they experience. A sudden change in behaviour could mean they have developed an anxiety disorder, even if there is no complaint of the typical symptoms. It is very common to have times in our lives when we feel a bit sad or low. But when these feelings last for more than a few weeks and get in the way of day-to-day functioning, this can indicate a period of depression. This is no difference in an autistic person than a non-autistic person. It is estimated that at least 20% of the population will experience a period of depression at some point but it is even more common in people on the autism spectrum. People who are depressed can experience a range of symptoms which vary from person to person in their combination, and can be mild or severe. It may be especially hard for depressed people on the autism spectrum to seek help because they might find change daunting and anxiety-provoking, feel worried that they will be blamed, or feel unsure about how to describe their symptoms. Anxiety and depression can also make people more generally introverted, withdrawn and isolated. All people with depression may have difficulty sharing their thoughts and feelings. But because people with autism can have difficulty labelling their feelings, it can be especially hard to communicate symptoms or concerns.
Thanks to a Rebuild Texas Grant through Agri-Life and a Union Pacific Grant through Turtle Wing Foundation, they will be offering an Adult Mental Health First Aid Course on Monday, March 16th. The City of La Grange Randolph Recreational Center will host this 8 hour training which will be from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. There is no cost to the program, but registration is limited to the first 30 to pre-register. This workshop is a public education program that introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds understanding of their impact, and overviews appropriate supports. This course uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to offer initial help in a mental health crisis and connect people to the appropriate professional, peer, social and self-help care. The program also teaches common risk factors and warning signs of specific illnesses like anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia. Mental Health First Aid teaches participants a five-step action plan to support someone developing signs and symptoms of a mental illness or experiencing an emotional crisis. Like CPR, Mental Health First Aid prepares participants to interact with a person in crisis and connect the person with help. First Aiders do not diagnose or provide any counseling or therapy. Instead, the program offers concrete tools and answers key questions like, “What do I do?” and, “Where can someone find help?” All trainees receive aprogram manual to complement the course material, morning refreshments, and lunch. To pre-registered or for further information contact the Fayette County Extension Office at (979)968-5831. Additional training dates will be offered for those who cannot attend this event. Adult Mental Health First Aid will also be offered on May 12 in Columbus, on May 16 again in La Grange, and the Youth version will be offered in Schulenburg on June 23. To learn more about these opportunities visit www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org or contact Turtle Wing Foundation Managing Director, Susie Shank, at 979-505-5090.
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