Providing a ‘Safety Net”
The harrowing news this week of a retired truck driver and Vietnam veteran in Alabama killed by authorities — who were attempting to rescue the 5-year-old boy the man had kidnapped and held hostage for nearly a week in a homemade bunker — sent shock waves across the nation.
According to news reports, 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes was described by neighbors as an “isolated loner” who once beat a dog with a lead pipe and had threatened to shoot children who set foot on his property. No one knows exactly why Dykes boarded a school bus last week and demanded to be given two boys between the ages of 6 and 8, killing the bus driver after he refused Dykes’ demands.
But one thing’s for sure, said Jay Glynn, executive director of Charlotte Behavioral Health Center — Dykes clearly needed help.
Perhaps, Glynn said, the whole incident could have been avoided had one of his neighbors or someone trained in identifying the signs of mental illness intervened sooner.
That’s why CBHC is taking steps to train its staff to teach local law enforcement, educators, church leaders and other community members how to recognize someone who may be suffering from mental illness, and how to get them the appropriate help.
Next month, the nonprofit will send a staff member for a five-day training session on the nationally acclaimed Mental Health First Aid program, which is designed to teach people how to respond in a mental-health crisis, similar to how first-aid training teaches people how to respond in medical emergencies.
“The typical response when you see somebody who’s a little strange, a little weird, is you avoid them. You cross the street,” Glynn said. “If it’s a neighbor, you keep your doors closed and you don’t talk to him. This program will help people learn how to deal with that.”
In other words, it will teach people what they can do to help someone who may be suicidal, or has suffered a drug overdose, or maybe is having a panic attack, Glynn said. It will help people identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness and teach them what to do and how to get a person the help they need.
“People just don’t know, and this program will help them,” he said.
According to the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, one in four adults and 10 percent of children in the United States suffered from a mental health illness in 2012. Statistics show that mental disorders are more common than heart disease and cancer combined — the leading causes of death.
That’s why, in 2008, the National Council joined forced with state mental health agencies in Maryland and Missouri to bring the concept of Mental Health First Aid, which was founded in Australia, to the U.S. Since being introduced four years ago, more than 50,000 people have been trained in 47 states and the District of Columbia.
With the help of a $1,000 donation from law firm Frohlich, Gordon and Beason P.A. and the firm’s “TLC” (Trial Lawyers Care) matching gift program, Charlotte Behavioral Health staff will attend the Mental Health First Aid for Children next month in Orlando, followed next year by mental health first aid training for adults.
Attorney and CBHC board member W. Cort Frohlich said the program will be a first step to helping to empower community-based organizations to address problems before they become tragedies.
“If ever we’ve had an example of why mental health care services are important, (the mass shooting in) Newtown (Connecticut) and in other places across the country has brought — in a tragic way — that home,” Frohlich said. “These guys (CBHC) are a safety net, not only for the people they serve, but for all of us.”