Luz Sanchez, a community connector in South Chicago, used to feel uncomfortable talking about mental health. Because of stigmas, these conversations can feel overwhelming or uncomfortable.  

However, having a solid understanding of mental health crises is critical, as one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness.

To help neighbors like Luz recognize crises and offer support, the South Chicago Neighborhood Network and Advocate Aurora Health hosted free mental health first aid training to people in the community.  

“This training is extremely important for people who are advocates of keeping our community residents healthy, in every sense of the word. But mostly mentally healthy,” Luz said. “It helped me personally by taking away any doubt that I might have had about mental illness.”

The Network’s half-day trainings were free and offered virtually to the public. Attendees were taught how to become “expert noticers” by following an action plan called “ALGE” — Assess, Listen, Gather information, and Encourage professional help or self help. 

Having conversations about mental health creates a safe space and promotes overall community health. The training created this space by making people feel comfortable sharing their stories or trauma. 

“The most important protective factor for people experiencing trauma or stress is connection, community connection,” said Amy McNicholas, a training instructor and Faith and Mental Health Specialist for Advocate Aurora Health. 

The trainings also reinforced two important ideas: empowerment and safety. When people are empowered and feel safe, communities are stronger and healthier. 

“In the community having awareness of symptoms of mental illness and how to approach them is necessary because we do have a high rate of mental illness in our community,” said Lashondria Purnell, a training instructor and Faith Community Nurse for Advocate Aurora Health. 

“Being trained to know what to do to serve those issues will help the community and keep people safe. Empowerment keeps the whole community safe,” she added. “My heart is grieved at the conditions people are in. So whatever we can do to bring that informed state to the whole community at large, the safer, more prepared and more vulnerable we can be.”  

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By Jessica Jones, AmeriCorps Multimedia Journalist