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Something to Talk About

Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Something to Talk About

March 25, 2014 | Mental Health First Aid | Comments
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I recently got a call from George Delgrosso, Executive Director of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, excited to share the news that the Colorado legislature approved $750,000 to expand Mental Health First Aid in Colorado. What made the difference in getting the appropriation? A legislative staff member took the course and became a champion of it.

A week ago we spoke with Patrick Kennedy, who shared a conversation he had with his local librarian. She had just completed the course and was enthused to share what she learned. The library is often a safe place for people in distress and she was ready to put her training into action.

Last week, 30 new Mental Health First Aid instructors were certified at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. The Commissioner was in attendance and announced a plan to train all of his 15,000 corrections officers. And as often happens the newly trained instructors shared personal stories of family members and friends with mental illnesses.

The whole idea behind Mental Health First Aid is that it is for anyone and everyone. We know it is successful not when all behavioral health practitioners know about it, but when it becomes a household name, as familiar as first aid and CPR. When Mental Health First Aid is required training for librarians, teachers, and even bus drivers. When people are talking about it.

From the first time I heard about an Australian public education program called Mental Health first Aid, I’ve believed in its power.  Mental Health First Aid gets people talking about mental health and gives them the skills to reach out and offer help.

Over the past few months, Mental Health First Aid has grown exponentially. Since the start of 2014 alone, more than 20,000 people completed the training — an average of about 350 people every day. This year’s Mental Health First Aid Community Impact Award honoree, the Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, has to date trained more than 2,400 people in the city of Chicago, and 40% of those trained report having put their training to use.

Mental health and substance use treatment organizations are natural partners and champions in their communities. Yet, this growth would not be possible without the excitement and involvement of other sectors. Colleges and universities now account for 10% of organizations offering the course. Primary care is taking notice, too –9% of organizations offering the course are hospitals, FQHCs, and other primary care facilities. We just launched Youth Mental Health First Aid last year, and already 6% of organizations offering the course are secondary school systems. Seven percent are police and fire departments, and 3% are faith-based organizations — churches, temples, and mosques.

We will continue to see Mental Health First Aid grow going forward. Last January, on the heels of the Sandy Hook tragedy, President Obama recommended Mental Health First Aid for school personnel. And this January, Congress approved a budget that included $15 million to expand Mental Health First Aid in local communities across the country. The President and HHS have called for a national conversation on mental health, and Mental Health First Aid gives our nation a common language to drive this dialogue.

I always look forward to the stories we get from people in local communities about Mental Health First Aid.  But most importantly, I look forward to seeing how Mental Health First Aid changes not only how we talk about mental health, but how we do something about it.

Do you have a story to share?