Mid-Missouri residents gathered Friday and Saturday at Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church for a mental health first-aid course organized by Bell.  Attendees ranged in age from 30 to 80 and discussed topics such as managing a person who is suicidal, or someone who shows signs of cutting or inflicting pain on themselves.


Jack Bell had parens patriae — the legal authority to act as parent — as superintendent of Missouri Training School for Boys.

If a child needed surgery, he didn't need to ask parents' permission — they went to the hospital. Or if he a felt a child wasn't acting in their own best interest, he could intervene to protect them. He calls it the ultimate accountability.

In the '70s a student left a suicide note and jumped off the Boonville Bridge into the Missouri River.

"At the time I was very unhappy about it, but I don't feel guilty," Bell said.

Bell retired in 2009 after working four decades as administrator and teacher at institutions such as University of Missouri and a north Kansas City school district. He volunteers now. His causes include serving in a prison fellowship and promoting awareness of mental health issues.

"I think my exposure at an academic level helps me understand," mental health issues, he said.

Mid-Missouri residents gathered Friday and Saturday at Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church for a mental health first-aid course organized by Bell.  Attendees ranged in age from 30 to 80 and discussed topics such as managing a person who is suicidal, or someone who shows signs of cutting or inflicting pain on themselves.

Bell has two people in his family who have struggled with mental illness. One of them sought treatment, and has been stabilized through medicine; the other refuses help and remains estranged.

"Once you help someone get better, you don't keep trying to help them," Bell said. "Caregiving can take out their caregiver, and the recipient is doing fine."

Two licensed clinicians from Missouri Department of Mental Health led the seminar in the basement of the church. A participant wrote ground rules — turn cell phones off, the course was not therapy — on a large white sheet taped to a post.

"I'm still excited about the participation of the group in the activities, learning the intervention skills you need to develop and how you might recognize a person who is at risk," Bell said Monday morning.

The instructors emphasized an acronym for mental healthcare throughout the seminar. Shannon Einspahr, one of the clinicians, asked participants Friday afternoon to stand and remain standing until they correctly recited a part of the ALGEE acronym.

Assess risk of suicide or harm.
Listen non-judgmentally.
Give reassurance and information.
Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
Encourage self-help strategies.

Larry Long, a Boonville resident, volunteers as a chaplain at Boonville Correctional Center and at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital in Columbia.

"A lot of those people are broken," Long said. "It's just so sad to see, and I was hoping to gain some better understanding of who they are and what can be done to help them out."

He asked about helping people who need money to repay a debt and threaten suicide if they don't get it. He said he has become conditioned to view their talk only as manipulation.

Rita McElhany, a clinician, said he should call a mental health hotline, law enforcement or both, and remain with the person until a licensed provider arrives.

"If they truly do need help, then they'll know to come to you," McElhany said.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health provided grant funding for the course, which was free to attendees, but normally cost $150.

Long called the course "an eye-opener."

"I'm not a counselor, and it gave me an idea how to treat those people and the resources that I can send them to," Long said.