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Be READY to respond to a mental health crisis

Posted on May. 25, 2021 ( comments)

If you can learn basic first aid for the body, can’t you learn first aid for mental health?

That’s the theory of several people in Auburn who have created a video program to help others learn tips for dealing with a mental health crisis. 

The creators include Stephen Anderson, MD, a doctor for 35 years in the emergency department at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center; and Pat Bailey, a retired Auburn Medical Center executive who is now part of Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus’ team.

They began the nationally-recognized Real Emergency Aid Depends on You (READY) training well before the pandemic; the pandemic has only made the need greater.

“A point we make over and over in READY is that isolation is the enemy of mental health,” Dr. Anderson said.

And now, in a socially distanced world, the enemy is everywhere. The READY team stresses that now more than ever you want to reach out to people at risk of mental health crisis.

“I stress social distancing is different than social isolation. That’s important for people to grasp. Social distancing means, stay six feet apart. It doesn’t mean, stay away from other people,” Dr. Anderson said. “People are more susceptible now, and people need more ways to be in contact with each other.

“There’s been an increase in mental health contacts. There’s been an increase in addiction. There’s been an increase in overdose deaths. There’s been an increase in suicides. People need tools to address mental health more than ever.”

The origins of READY

The story of the READY program begins in 2015 with a committee formed by Mayor Backus to address population health issues in her city. For Bailey, it was easy to sign on to grapple constructively with many population health issues, including a large percentage of suicides in South King County.

“When you get people involved, you have progress — it was only after tens of thousands of people learned CPR that the death rate from heart attacks went down,” Bailey said. “And that’s what we wanted to do for mental health. Mental health is a condition too, but instead of talking about the heart or gall bladder, you’re talking about the brain.”

The mayor and Bailey recruited a number of people and groups, including Anderson, who would go on to chair the committee.  

READY began as a series of talks about skills in the community, and eventually grew into the video. 

“Steve is a great teacher. He’s a great presenter,” Bailey said. ”He’s very passionate about teaching in the community. And then there’s what happened with his daughter.”

Personal passion from tragedy

Dr. Anderson was working on the first video when he experienced heartbreak that further fueled him.  In February 2019, his daughter Kayce overdosed and died at age 26. It’s a story that Dr. Anderson has told elsewhere.  

 “While I was focusing at home on Kayce’s struggle, we were also building out the READY program in the community,” Dr. Anderson said. “Though separate, the plights are very much intertwined in reality.  This fueled my passion even brighter.”

What you’ll learn

So there is one thing we all know, and one thing most of us don’t know. We generally figure out that if a family member or friend is in a severe situation, we call 9-1-1. We know that.

But most of us have no idea what to do after making the call. We have no idea what to do with the person in crisis who might be standing right in front of us.

Dr. Anderson has seen people who have been tasered, and sometimes even shot, because people at the scene didn’t realize they were dealing with a mental health emergency.

“People didn’t know how to respond at the scene. And that’s reasonable — how would you know unless you’ve had some training?” he said.

“Lots of people know to call 911, and that’s great. But it takes some time for 911 to get there. And during that time, we want to make sure everyone is going to be safe,” Dr. Anderson said. “Hardly anyone has any idea what will happen when 911 arrives or what happens in an ER.”

Here are some of the basics you learn through the READY program:

  • Isolation is the enemy. Be there for the person. Encourage open communication.
  • You can’t say the word ‘safe’ enough. You want to, as Dr. Anderson put it, “bring the person’s amperage down.”

 “When I approach someone in crisis in the ER, I use the word ‘safe’ probably five times in my first few sentences. I’ll say, “This is all about keeping you safe. But I have to keep me safe, I have to keep all the other people around here safe. And the best way to do that is by keeping you safe. So let’s figure out how to make sure you’re safe.” 

“And that’s really what a lot of READY is about. How to keep the person safe, how to keep the team safe, so that no one gets hurt. And then when we can do that, maybe we can then have the opportunity to make a difference in that person’s life."


In the video below, Mayor Backus and Dr. Anderson talk more about the READY program.

You can also watch the full READY program video on YouTube (running time approx. 55 minutes).

Posted in: Behavioral Health

About The Author

Walter Neary Walter Neary
Walter Neary is our content manager for internal communications. Before MultiCare, he was a newspaper reporter and editor, as well as a science writer and PR manager for Comcast, the University of Washington Health Sciences Center and UW Medicine in Seattle. More stories by this author
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