Mental health counselor talks to students about Mental Health First Aid

By Serena Tartaglia
Staff Writer
Richard Keelan, a mental health counselor who works in child advocacy at Golisano Children’s Hospital, was invited to FGCU by a Civic Engagement course to speak about mental health first aid on Nov 6.
Mental health first aid is an action plan for a person suffering with a mental illness consisting of five steps: assessing if a person is in danger of suicide or self-harm, listening nonjudgmentally, offering reassurance and helpful information, encouraging that the person with a mental illness seek professional help if necessary, and encouraging self-help and support strategies.
According to the National Council for Behavioural Health, Mental Health First Aid teaches how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
“Saying the words ‘You are not alone, and I care’, is hugely important for a person suffering with mental illness,” Keelan said.
Keelan emphasized the importance of “person-first” language and eradicating the stigma associated with mental illness. 
“We do not say ‘there is a cancer walking down the hallway, we say there is a person with cancer walking down the hallway. Somebody lives with a disorder. The disorder does not define us,” Keelan said. 
Keelan condemned Florida’s Baker Act program. If a person is deemed a danger to themselves or to others, they can be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility. The Baker Act is enforced by the police, not physicians or mental health professionals, like Keelan. 
“We are criminalizing illness. Being taken by the police only adds to the stigma of mental illness,” Keelan said. 
Keelan ended his lecture with a plea: “When you fight the stigma of mental illness, you help the person with mental illness, and you also help yourself.”