U.Md. program wants to reduce stigma around receiving mental health help

This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.

You may know how to give first aid physically when an adult or child is in an emergency situation, but do you know what to do when someone is having a mental crisis? A local group is teaching Maryland communities how to administer mental health first aid.

Julie Slivka, community educator and project manager for the University of Maryland’s ROPTA Program. (Courtesy Julie Slivka)

“We go out into the community and we work to elevate people’s knowledge base about behavioral health issues, whether those be mental health or substance use,” said Julie Slivka, community educator and project manager for the University of Maryland’s ROPTA Program.

ROPTA stands for Reinforcing Overdose Prevention through Training and Advocacy.

She said her organization is also trying to breakdown the barriers and stigmas when it comes to receiving help for mental health and to connect people to the services they need.

The organization has a five-step option program called ALGEE which teaches people to:

  • (A) approach and access a situation
  • (L) listen and respond non-judgmentally
  • (G) give reassurance and information
  • (E) encourage self-help
  • (E) encourage professional support

Slivka said the group is able to let people know that they are not alone through the ALGEE program.

“This is really to just to help empower the community at large to connect people with the appropriate resources and services that they need,” she said.

Slivka said the program originated in Australia in 2000 and has been adopted by over 25 countries across the globe. She said the overdose prevention program was created by an registered nurse who wanted to equip any person with the ability to respond to a mental health or substance abuse crisis in the same way a person trained in mental health first aid would respond.

Over the past four years, the program has trained 1,300 mental health caregivers, Slivka said. She said they also believe in training people to become trainers themselves. The program has been able to produce over 70 trainers in the state of Maryland with the goal of “creating a ripple effect in getting the information out.”

Due to its generous grant funding, she said the organization has been able to provide the training free of charge to organizations like Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated.

The program just completed its fifth trainings with the group so far, and are looking to partner with other communities and organizations, she said.

To find out more about their full list of trainings, visit its website.

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant is an Anchor and Reporter for WTOP. Over the past 20 years, Stephanie has worked in several markets, including Baltimore, Washington, Houston and Charleston, holding positions ranging from newscaster to morning show co-host.

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