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Former law enforcement officer to host mental health crisis workshop

Steven James BCC Editor

Volunteer crisis chaplain and “Taking God on Patrol” author Mark Caronna will host a free, four-hour workshop on Saturday, Dec. 3 from 8 a.m. to noon at Bandera First Baptist Church at 1302 Pecan St. about how to counsel people in mental health crises.
Caronna said in the workshop, which is open to the public, he will use audio and visual tools to show people how to appropriately approach people in mental health crisis situations, which should be done differently than with people who are calm. He said if someone says or do something wrong, the crisis could worsen. Caronna will also teach active listening, which is paying attention to what someone says without being distracted, as well as other techniques that should be used in mental health crises, which is when people lose the ability to cope and may possibly harm themselves or others.
The workshop will also include recognizing when somebody is having a mental health crisis and how to calm a situation. Caronna said he wanted to bring the workshop to Bandera because he noticed most people in the church community are not well-educated about mental illnesses, and church needs to be a safe place for people. He also said remaining ignorant about a dangerous, widespread matter such as mental health crises is inexcusable.
Caronna based the workshop on a 40-hour program he helped teach to officers in the Houston Police Department, where he was a senior officer, a member of the crisis intervention team and an instructor in the mental health unit. He said people should take the techniques they learn at the workshop and use them in their own churches and communities.
“Sometimes we say things that are hurtful and we don’t realize that we’re hurting and causing stigma for people who have mental health issues,” Caronna said. “It’s difficult for someone who has a chronic persistent mental illness to confine in people who really may not understand what they’re dealing with. This workshop gives an overview of every major mental illness, so we can understand what we’re talking about.”
Nearly one in five adults in the U.S. have a mental illness, according to a February 2014 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report. Nearly one in 25 U.S. adults suffer from a severe mental illness, which impedes everyday activities such as going to work and spending time with friends. Between 14.66 and 17.38 percent of people in Texas have mental illnesses, also according to SAMHSA.
Caronna said he will focus on four mental illnesses: schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, major depressive disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I have heard comments directed in church services—not here—where even from the pulpit someone will say “Wow, the weather sure has been schizophrenic, hasn’t it?”” he said. “What they’re talking about, “changing,” is multiple personalities, as [in] schizophrenia. Totally different disorder that’s very rare, and I’ve been in churches where members have a son who has that diagnosis, and they’re sitting there in that service, and when they hear that, it’s hard to imagine the insult that is and how hurtful.”
He also said one of the ways people with mental illnesses can lessen their struggles is by talking with people they trust, even if they are unfamiliar with mental health.
“Statistically, for every person who commits suicide, there’s six survivors—spouse, children, parents—so why are we not addressing this?” he asked. “Talking about this doesn’t cause it to happen—quite the opposite. We need to address these sorts of things, and we will.”