Worried about family stress and anxiety? Take this mental health first aid class

The American Red Cross has provided critical relief services since Clara Barton founded the organization in 1881. Many of us have benefitted from their first aid, CPR and water safety classes.

With the pandemic adding so much stress and anxiety for families, Red Cross is now offering a course on mental health first aid as a way for parents to be more aware of and better prepared to handle mental health issues at home.

A virtual first aid kit, the course gives users tips for identifying depression, anxiety and other mental conditions. Psychological First Aid: Supporting Yourself and Others During COVID-19 presents mechanisms and strategies to deal with the stress brought on by the pandemic, as well as learning to recognize and manage those issues with family members.

“The training is very central to what we do because our mission is to help alleviate human suffering,” says A. J. Suero, regional communications and marketing manager for the American Red Cross of Greater Pennsylvania.

“When you think about alleviating suffering, a lot of that does take the form of being there in person to help people with tragedies,” Suero says. “A big part of that is to provide the type of training that addresses the mental toll that emergencies bring about.”

Kids seem to be increasingly susceptible to mental stresses caused by the continuing pandemic. A Gallup poll conducted in June revealed that 3 out of 10 parents thought that COVID-19 was causing harm to their kids’ emotional or mental health because of social distancing and closures.

Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Reitz, who specializes in treating kids, has seen an increase in demand for her services.

“I see more anxiety and more OCD, in particular, and just a lot of family stress coping with the academic demands and schooling from home,” says Dr. Reitz, owner of Strong Foundations Psychological Associates.

Helping to recognize that kids need extra help is one of the goals of the Psychological First Aid class. The course is conducted by mental health professionals who guide participants through real-life situations that may arise due to COVID-19. The classes, which cost $20, are limited in size to ensure that instructors can address questions and mimic the atmosphere of a real classroom.

“A lot of it is going through different scenarios and exercises, and different skills that we can use to process the emotional part of what’s going on right now,” Suero says, “It’s teaching coping skills.”

The Psychological First Aid training program is one of many Red Cross initiatives offered online to give an option to those who are uncomfortable with in-person training. The Pittsburgh chapter is currently offering online courses in other subjects with family appeal, such as Child and Baby First Aid, Babysitting Basics and  Returning to Work During COVID-19.

Nationwide, the Red Cross reports an increase in interest in online classes.

“There are certainly a lot more people at home who don’t feel comfortable going out,” Suero says. “They are looking for resources and training that can help them.”