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Can You Recognize Signs of Mental Illness? Class Aims to Help

KENT COUNTY, Mich.– One in four American adults experience mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Now, there’s a class happening throughout West Michigan that teaches people to recognize the signs of mental illness, and shows them how to get that person the care he or she needs.

“I think people think it’s just an on and off switch; that you can just say ‘Ok today I want to be depressed and I just want attention,” said Michelle Merchant.

Merchant has lived with anxiety most her life, but was only recently diagnosed.

Medication and scrap booking help manage her anxiety, but it was the sudden deaths of her mother and close family friend that caused her to lose her job.

“I was selling life insurance at the time, so it made it really difficult to talk about it and deal with trying to explain to parents why they need life insurance,” she said.

Merchant said she was fired for not performing up to standards. She just wishes her bosses and coworkers could have seen she was suffering from anxiety.

Now, a day-long course is happening periodically throughout West Michigan, helping people recognize the signs of mental illness.

“This model has been proven effective in teaching people just regular, street-wise people to actually apply something so simplistic as a first aid for mental health,” said Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. She helps lead a class called Mental Health First Aid.

After the eight-hour class, students will know how to compassionately approach someone who may need their help.

It’s a course Merchant thinks would have helped her, had someone known what she was going through.

“If you think you know someone who has those symptoms, just reach out,” she said.  “Even if you don’t understand it, just to be a friend and to talk to them and to give them a chance to say ‘This is what’s wrong, and this is how I need help.’ Just be there for them. The last thing you want to hear is someone has committed suicide or they left their kids because they just couldn’t handle the diagnosis.”

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