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Mental Health First Aid Heads to Capitol Hill

Capitol Connector
Your source for the latest updates from Capitol Hill. We translate policy into practice so you can learn how policy trends will affect your work and how best to prepare.

Shelley Starkey

Behavioral Health Policy and Practice Intern

Mental Health First Aid Heads to Capitol Hill

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On Friday, March 24, the National Council for Behavioral Health hosted briefings on Capitol Hill to address the importance of Mental Health First Aid trainings for law enforcement officers who regularly respond to calls involving persons in mental health or addiction crises. The panel included three law enforcement officers from across the U.S. who discussed the impact that Mental Health First Aid has had on their communities and departments.

  • Chief Louis M. Dekmar from the LaGrange Police Department credited trainings like Mental Health First Aid with decreasing the number of arrests in Georgia where police officers needed to use force by more than half. While Georgia is 8th in population in the country, he said, it ranks 42nd in incidence of fatal police shootings. According to the Chief, the de-escalation tactics learned in Mental Health First Aid have helped officers interact with the public. As the First Vice President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), he has made awareness of mental health issues a priority through the One Mind Campaign, which seeks to train 100% of officers in departments that take the pledge in Mental Health First Aid.
  • Sergeant Jeremy Romo from the St. Louis County Police Department acknowledged not only the impact of the training on the public but also among fellow law enforcement officers. Many officers, he shared, were skeptical of the Mental Health First Aid course and feared the training would ask them to compromise their own safety to serve those in mental health crisis. Sgt. Romo said that these misconceptions were quickly dispelled as the officers learned how to increase safety for everyone involved in a police call. In addition, Sergeant Romo shared accounts of officers employing Mental Health First Aid strategies in their personal lives, particularly in response to the activities in Ferguson, MO in 2016.
  • Trooper First Class Christine Jeltema of the Connecticut State Police stressed the importance of funding Mental Health First Aid for law enforcement officers. In Connecticut, these de-escalation trainings are a top priority, but are funded only by the State’s limited resources. A trained Crisis Intervention officer, TFC Jeltema knows how critical it is for first responders to be equipped with this special training. Mental Health First Aid offers a cost-effective yet thorough avenue by which key personnel can be trained in lifesaving mental health crisis response tactics.

The briefings were sponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) as well as Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Doris Matsui (D-CA). A video recording of the event can be found on Mental Health First Aid USA’s Facebook page here.

TAKE ACTION

Mental Health First Aid champions Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Doris Matsui (D-CA) are circulating a letter requesting continued funding for Mental Health First Aid trainings in FY2018. Will you please take two minutes and urge your legislator to sign on to the Dear Colleague letter supporting Mental Health First Aid training for this important population? Deadline for signatures is March 31.