Man credits Mental Health First Aid for saving co-worker’s life

Retired HR director responds to colleague's plan
Man credits Mental Health First Aid for saving co-worker’s life

Jim Neustadt had taken basic First Aid courses, and even trained how to use an automated external defibrillator. As the human-resources director for about 270 employees, he knew his co-workers looked to him when any emergency took place.

With that in mind, Neustadt decided to take his preparation a step further. He enrolled in a Mental Health First Aid course offered by Journey Mental Health. After the first four-hour session of the training, Neustadt went to work like any other day.

That morning, one of his colleagues came into his office and told Neustadt another co-worker at the auto shop was talking about committing suicide.

“I thought I was being set up because I was taking this training,” Neustadt admitted, “but I thought, well, I probably can’t risk the fact that I might be wrong.”

Now retired, Neustadt called in the co-worker he calls Joe to keep his identity confidential.

“I said, ‘Joe, how do you plan to kill yourself?’ I was very surprised that I said that,” Neustadt said.

It was just one of the questions he remembered to ask thanks to the mental health first aid training the night before. The co-worker told Neustadt his specific plan for suicide.

“Joe, how do you think this is going to make your parents feel? Just trying to engage him,” Neustadt explained. “And he’s freely talking to me.”

Thanks to those simple questions, Neustadt was able to get the man to his family and direct him toward help.

“I think the most important thing is I had some sense to recognize that this was a real serious thing,” Neustadt said. “The other thing is I had some confidence in what questions to ask.”

Dan Muxfeld was Neustadt’s mental health first aid trainer. He was certified to teach the course about five years ago and says Journey Mental Health has reached thousands of people with its training.

“People with mental health disorders, it’s like they’re waiting for someone to try to help. They’re waiting for someone to notice, notice the pain that they’re in and say something,” Muxfeld said. “So it can be (a) really… positive experience just being the first person to get someone to open up and talk.”

Muxfeld says much like typical First Aid, this class teaches people how to recognize signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis, how to engage and listen to someone struggling with something, and how to guide them to professional treatment and resources.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one out of five adults struggles with their mental health.

Muxfeld says the median age of onset for anxiety disorders is 10 years old, and it takes an average of 10 years from the time someone starts experiencing symptoms of mental illness to the time when get the help they need.

“Someone who is feeling anxious or depressed, the tendency as that gets worse is to isolate yourself from help. So it be very many years before someone actually ends up getting a diagnosis and then gets access to care through that,” Muxfeld said.

Throughout the eight-hour course, Muxfeld covers topics ranging from anxiety to depression to psychosis, and even substance abuse. Along with typical lectures and presentations on the topics, each participant receives a book for future reference. Muxfeld also has those in the course participate in role-playing scenarios so they can apply what they learn.

“It really equips you with the resources to be able to step forward and provide, you know, accurate, compassionate help to someone who’s suffering,” Muxfeld said, “and give them hope for the fact that they can get help and that help will lead them to recovery.”

As the course is increasingly popular, Muxfeld says Journey Mental Health is now partnering with Madison College to offer the training at its Truax campus starting in the summer.

Neustadt said we have a responsibility to be able to respond in a mental health situation.

“We need to be trained, we need to be aware, we need to be able to do something to help people,” Neustadt said.

Journey will offer its next training in April. If you’re interested in the Mental Health First Aid course, visit Journey’s website or contact Dan Muxfeld at (608) 280-2566.