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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

A Personal Take on Mental Health First Aid

November 26, 2012 | Uncategorized | Comments
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This may sound unusual but one Mental Health First Aid’s biggest initial supporters was my husband. Mind you, he’s a CPA and not even in our industry. But when I first bounced this idea off of him of bringing the program to this country, he said “That’s going to be one of the most important things you’ve ever done. Its potential is unlimited, but you need to make the investment for it to be successful.”  Well, we made the investment, and now almost 50,000 people have been trained by some 1,800 instructors.

We hear many stories from police officers who take the training, and this is one of my favorites:

A few years ago a man in Rhode Island barricaded himself in his neighbor’s apartment when he thought aliens had invaded the place. Normally, if a suspect refuses to open the door, the police break in, arrest the guy, and throw him in jail. But in this case the officers had Mental Health First Aid training and a neighbor told them the man often heard voices. So officers took the extra time to listen to the man and convinced him to open the door. And rather than bringing him to jail they took him to a hospital for treatment.

That’s the power of Mental Health First Aid.  In the past organizations have spent millions of dollars on anti-stigma campaigns and TV ads.  But with Mental Health First Aid all you need is a space, some manuals, and instructors. For a small price it can educate a lot of people in a community.  Also, people are much more open now to discussing mental illness and addiction. They realize how much it touches others people’s lives including their own friends, relatives, and family members. It’s a great mental health literacy program.

Increasingly faith groups are using Mental Health First Aid. Marti Vogt, an instructor at Perimeter Church in Georgia, says people of faith often respond to someone with mental illness with prayer. She says, “I tell them to imagine seeing a child get hit by a car. You’d pray, but you’d also call 911.”

We’re also unveiling a version for those who work with youth in the coming months.  The youth are the future of our country, and we need to help them to be successful and prepare them to make a living and support themselves. Too often emotional distress gets in the way of school, jobs, and family life. So we want to empower youth and those who know and care for them to intervene early, and head off the obstacles that may prevent someone from being successful in life.

I can point to a lot of success in my career, but I think Mental Health First Aid will be my professional legacy.  It has certainly lived up to our (and my husband’s) expectations.