Local mental health officials hope to train hundreds of Columbus residents to recognize signs of mental illness in the hopes of preventing deaths by suicide.

The idea to help the Columbus community learn more about mental illness and its connection to suicide came from the Sept. 10 Columbus Suicide Awareness and Prevention community event, said Melissa Newland, a mental health therapist with Centerstone of Indiana.

About 400 people attended the event at Columbus East High School, scheduled to coincide with National Suicide Prevention Awareness Day.

Those at the event included students and families still grieving the losses of three East students who died by suicide who would have been sophomores this year at East. Two of those deaths, a 15-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy, occurred within a week of each other around the time the fall semester began.

As a response to the turnout and community interest in helping young people, Centerstone — a not-for-profit center offering mental-health services — is sponsoring two sessions on “Mental Health First Aid,” one general class and another specifically geared toward those who work with youth, including teachers, health workers, school staff and family members.

The classes are from a national outreach program that uses an eight-hour course with role-playing and videos to demonstrate how to offer help in a mental health crisis and connect people to the appropriate professional, peer, social or self-help care.

Newland explained that suicide culminates from three combined factors — a sense that one’s existence is a burden, a sense of feeling unwanted or alienated from others and a learned fearlessness to harm oneself.

If those factors can be recognized, and the individual receives proper intervention and therapy, suicide can be preventable, she said.

Kisha Allman, a volunteer for the local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said she plans to sit in on one of the First Aid sessions, although she knows it is similar to programs she already presents in the community about suicide prevention.

A key element in preventing suicide is knowing when someone might be contemplating it, she said.

Training such as Mental Health First Aid provides guidance on how to recognize the signs that someone needs assistance and knowing how to get them the assistance, she said.

The majority of people who die by suicide do not seek professional help, Newland said, and many don’t receive appropriate treatment or intervention. Programs such as “Mental Health First Aid” attempt to change that by teaching effective ways to intervene and how to find treatment professionals to help.

Newland emphasized that the program is not about teaching anyone how to counsel or work with someone who is experiencing anxiety, depression, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, eating disorders or schizophrenia.

Instead, the program teaches the common risk factors and warning signs of specific types of mental health illnesses, increasing awareness that could lead to the person receiving treatment from a qualified mental health professional.

“First Aiders (those who take the class) do not take on the role of professionals,” Newland said. The program offers answers to questions such as “What should I do if I see someone in emotional distress?”

Mental Health First Aid skills can be applied anytime, anywhere, and to anyone in distress, whether it is a veteran exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, an unemployed friend displaying signs of severe depression, or maybe a teenage family member presenting evidence of self-injury such as cutting, the Mental Health First Aid website states.

The session for adults will be at Centerstone on Nov. 19 and the session for those who work with youth ages 12 to 18 is scheduled for Dec. 30, also at Centerstone.

The December class will help adults who work with youth recognize when the adolescent is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is experiencing a crisis, Newland said.

Also eight hours, the course reviews typical adolescent development and teaches an action plan to help young people in crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics include anxiety, depression, substance abuse and behavior and eating disorders.

Centerstone has timed the youth First Aid session for December at a time when students are preparing to head back to school from break and may be experiencing some adjustment issues from the family holiday time back to a regular schedule.

Another event coming up through Allman’s group will be International Survivor of Suicide Day, which is observed the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Allman said.

Although details are still being worked out on the local observance, Allman said the event will help loved ones of those who have died by suicide prepare and get through the holidays.

If you go

What: Mental Health First Aid

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 19 (lunch is on your own)

Where: Centerstone, 720 N. Marr Road, in the training room

How much: $20 for class workbook, scholarships are available. Be prepared to pay with cash or check made out to Centerstone when arriving for class.

To register or request a scholarship: Email Melissa Newland at

What: Youth Mental Health First Aid

For: Those who work with youth ages 12 to 18

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 30

Where: Centerstone, 720 N. Marr Road, in the training room

How much: $20 for class workbook, scholarships are available. Be prepared to pay with cash or check made out to Centerstone when arriving for class.

To register or request a scholarship: Email Melissa Newland at

About International Survivors of Suicide Day

International Survivors of Suicide Day is Nov. 21. On that day, people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding by sharing their experience with others.

Suicide prevention resources

National Crisis Line: 800-273-8255

National Crisis Line (Spanish language): 888-628-9454

Teen Suicide Hotline: 800-784-2433

Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255

Indiana Suicide Prevention Task Force:

Survivors of Suicide support groups:

To learn more about suicide prevention, visit or visit Facebook at

About Mental Health First Aid

To learn more, visit

About Centerstone

If you or someone you know is seeking recovery from substance abuse or mental health issues, Centerstone offers services and assistance.

Call: 800-344-8802

Centerstone Crisis Line: 800-832-5442


Columbus location: 720 N. Marr Road

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at or (812) 379-5631.