The National Council for Behavioral Health appreciates Congresswomen Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Doris Matsui’s (D-CA) leadership on the Mental Health First Aid Act (H.R. 1877) and thanks Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) for bringing it to the floor.
Police have become the de facto first responders to mental health crises. The eight-hour Mental Health First Aid training provides officers with tools to help de-escalate incidents and avoid tragic outcomes. Officers learn how to assess a situation, intervene properly and help someone find appropriate care. The House is voting on the bipartisan legislation today, which will award grants to train individuals, including police officers, to accomplish safe de-escalation of crisis situations, recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and encourage timely referral to mental health services.
Mental Health First Aid has already made a difference in police departments around the country.
- Rhode Island began offering Mental Health First Aid training to its police officers in 2008. It has helped officers better identify the signs of mental illness and improved their knowledge and understanding of mental illnesses.
- In 2013, 50 percent of police-involved shootings in Albuquerque involved people with indications of mental health issues. So far, in 2016 after New Mexico started training officers, that number is one.
- It is also changing how law enforcement perceives and interacts with people with behavioral health issues. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections trains every staff member in Mental Health First Aid. In addition to affecting day-to-day interactions in the state’s prisons, the program has led to changes in prison policy and culture. Inmates with mental illnesses are no longer placed in solitary confinement, where in 2013, 206 of 288 documented suicide attempts took place.
If Congress passes the Mental Health First Aid Act, more first responders and law enforcement officials will receive this valuable training. Mental Health First Aid is a powerful tool proven to help law enforcement avert tragedy. The National Council for Behavioral Health looks forward to its passage.