News & Press

Know What to Say: Mental Health First Aid can Help Save a Life

Pittsburgh Post-Ga
12:00 AM JUL 5, 2017

Major League Baseball umpire John Tumpane made national news last week when he helped save a woman from jumping off the Roberto Clemente Bridge. A national expert on suicide prevention, Christine Moutier, said Mr. Tumpane showed “fantastic instinct” in the soothing, empathetic way he spoke to the woman, who was pulled from the bridge and taken to a hospital for treatment.

Mr. Tumpane’s experience is a reminder that any of us, at any time, could happen upon a person in a mental health crisis. How many of us would handle the situation as deftly as he did? A program called Mental Health First Aid can train bystanders to say and do the right things when they encounter someone in crisis. It’s an eight-hour course, offered periodically through mental health agencies, including Pittsburgh Mercy, that explains how to assess a person’s risk of self-injury and how to interact with that person — using supportive language, as Mr. Tumpane did — until professional help arrives.

Mental Health First Aid is a less-intensive version of the Crisis Intervention Team training often given to police and corrections officers. It’s sometimes referred to as mental health’s equivalent of CPR, and the organization that manages the program, the National Council for Behavioral Health, wants to make it just as common.

The program gives participants an overview of various mental illnesses and explains the overlap between mental illness and substance abuse. In addition to the general course, other modules have been developed to provide extra training on interacting with college students, veterans and senior citizens. To find a course near you, go to

Mark Rogalsky, Pittsburgh Mercy’s senior manager for school and community services, said some versions of the training tell the story of Kevin Hines, who attempted suicide in 2000 by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Miraculously, he survived. Mr. Hines tells people he would have aborted his plan if just one person had recognized his distress and reached out to him. Nobody did, and he jumped.

Mr. Tumpane was there for a woman who needed help last week. Mental Health First Aid can prepare the rest of us to be there for someone, too.

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