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We use CPR to save someone if their heart or breathing stops, but it can be harder to know when and how to help a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

On Thursday, Christina Lopes, a nurse practitioner and Certified Adult Mental Health First Aid Instructor at CHI Memorial Hospital, will teach an eight-hour "first aid" course on addressing common mental health and substance use problems in adults. Participants will learn the tools to intervene so those in need can get appropriate support and resources before it's too late.

"One in five people have a mental illness, so we all know somebody, or work with somebody, or live with somebody that has a mental illness," Lopes said. "Mental health first aid teaches participants to recognize the potential risk factors and warning signs for a range of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, psychotic disorders, substance use disorders and self injury."

Lopes said anyone can benefit from the class, because mental illnesses are as common as physical illnesses, but symptoms can be difficult to detect. Also, people with a mental illness or substance use disorder are often more hesitant to reach out for help.

"There's the stigma with mental illnesses that's not necessarily there with the physical ones," she said, adding that the class aims to increase awareness and mental health literacy.

"It's a common misconception that people with mental illness are violent. those with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than inflict violence on someone else," Lopes said.

Elizabeth Hawkins, a certified medical assistant at CHI Memorial Parkway in Ringgold, just completed the course along with her coworkers in June and called it "an eye opener."

"We did some exercises with everyone that showed what it's like to struggle with mental health, and it lets you see what someone else deals with on a day-to-day basis," Hawkins said. "I've actually had to use the training since then when a patient called and was threatening to commit suicide, and we knew what to do."

Lopes typically teaches three or four classes a year, and participants can register and get more information by emailing christina_lopes@memorial.org or calling 423-495-4020.

The cost for non-employees is $20, which goes toward supplies and a manual to keep. Participants earn a certification that's good for three years and can be renewed online.

Memorial's class is the only Mental Health First Aid USA class now offered in Chattanooga, according to the website www.MentalHealthFirstAid.org. So far, more than 1.5 million people across the United States have been trained in Mental Health First Aid by a base of more than 15,000 instructors, the website states.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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