Mental Health First Aid certified instructor and NAMI Seattle board member Sean Maloney on language use, conversations rich with informed knowledge, and improving community.

By: Victoria Scharkov, Sarah Noyes, Martin Ruga, Sean Kalaw, and Saad Alhusseini

After most of us were finishing our lunches, the five of us, along with the rest of our peers, prepared for the upcoming class… virtually that is. We were either sitting in bed, on a couch, or wheeling our chairs towards desks in our at-home work stations. All of us opened up our laptops, desktops, and phones to tune in for today’s class time.

Slowly, one by one we filed into the Zoom meeting call, and we were met with the usual screen filled with dark boxes with the students’ names on them, patiently waiting for our special guest to arrive on the scene (or rather on the screen.) Our small group reviewed our notes and questions we would ask, what to look for, how to respond and follow up, while our peers were engaging in small conversation with one another waiting for the lecture to begin. We heard a new pinging of another person entering the call and it all came to an immediate stop. Professor Umetsu introduced us to the wonderful Sean Maloney, who, even through the screen, seemed more than pleased to be meeting with us, adjusting his glasses, and excitedly greeting us. Sean Maloney’s energy brought zest to our Zoom environment. As our Professor made her final morning announcements, our interviewer Victoria, as well as interviewee Sean Maloney were setting up their screens, adjusting their cameras for the best angles they could achieve. For the next hour and a half, Maloney would go on to share his journey in the mental health community, a community that he has been very involved with and has had a close relationship with for many decades.

Maloney is a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) class instructor. These classes provide information on how to recognize signs of mental health problems and how to help people in situations like suicidal thoughts or psychosis. MHFA helps people, both those with mental health conditions and those who know someone who needs help with their mental health, find proper professional help for their situations. Maloney hosts these classes as often as he can.

Where have you worked at in the past before becoming a board member at NAMI?

SM: “Well, I would tell you I’m semi-retired, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. So, the semiit’s true, but I’m definitely not totally retired.

I received a master’s degree in Psychology fromAntioch University in Seattle. My first full time paid position was with Catholic CommunityServices in Tacoma where I provided crisis intervention in home therapy for families. After twoyears, I became the program manager for Pediatric Interim Care Services (PICS) and was there for 10 years. From 2001 through 2020, I was the Director of Clinical Training at Catholic CommunityServices. I provided clinical training for staff from Bellingham through Portland.”

What qualifications do you look for in those who could teach these Mental Health First Aid classes?

SM: “An openness about mental health, a level of comfort telling their own story. By the way the folks who teach MHFA talk about their own experience with mental health challenges. So for instance, if I were an instructor for Youth Mental Health, and a parent (I’m not a parent) I would be talking about maybe some of the challenges I’ve had with youth. Also, it is important to be able to listen. Because we discuss tough topics like suicide, it is important to monitor the participants. Some of the folks we’re training have been through a mental health crisis or recently lived through somebody killing themselves. We must be monitoring the whole room to see what’s going on and then what happens is we go into a breakout room if somebody is having a hard time. You have to be able to multitask. It’s about being able to live that value that mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, that it’s a medical condition.”

In your own words, why exactly is mental health first aid important?

SM: “Offering MHFA in a community, results in increased referrals for mental health care. We know early intervention pays off with better outcomes for those with a mental health challenge. Like first aid for medical conditions, mental health first aid (MHFA) offers help until help arrives. MHFA provides skills to intervene with someone who is considering suicide. MHFA addresses the cost of stigma. MHFA dispels common myths about mental health challenges.”

How do you work with the community around you?

SM: “Well, we have folks doing outreach. Muguette Guenneguez was our last executive director. We just love what she did. She reached out to the BIPOC community, so we still have those connections. We’re doing more outreach. One of the things we’re working on right now is we’ve got some bilingual folks. We are going to be reaching out more and more to Spanish speaking communities. That’s one language we’ve got under our belt right now. The other thing is we tend to pull people in from the NAMI community. One of the things that’s amazing about NAMI Seattle, we work to get what we call consumer voice into our decision-making processes. There are people on the board who are people living with mental health challenges. We tend to try to hire folks that have mental health challenges. And so that’s a big deal. I like that one of the positions we just filled is somebody who was a peer counselor who then came on in a position with the agency.”

Sean Maloney could have gone on talking about his experiences, and we would have been more than happy to listen because of how entertaining his delivery was, but time was up. We thanked him for his time and he delightfully responded that he enjoyed spending time with us.

By the end of the interview, it was clear to us that Sean Maloney is a man who deeply cares about the community he works for. His hard work to humanize people through his work is empowering. Sean has found enjoyment and fulfillment in his current line of work by being able to help those who need it, as well as better informing the larger community.

Sean Maloney facilitates mental health first aid certification classes every few months at NAMI Seattle. If you are interested and would like to get involved with these classes, please contact NAMI Seattle for additional information. If you would like to help support programs like these, as well as contribute to NAMI to expand their outreach, consider donating or volunteering to help!

This interview was condensed for editing purposes. This article is a collaborative piece written by a group of students in Professor Laura Umetsu’s Business Writing course from the University of Washington Bothell School of Business. A special thank you to Sean Maloney, Jasmine Bager, Laura Umetsu, for their time and consideration on this project.