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Mental Health First Aid: A Step in the Right Direction

March 1, 2011
by Dennis G. Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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Within a month or so, I look forward to meeting many of you at the National Council's National Mental Health and Addictions Conference and Expo in San Diego and getting to know more about the people and organizations you represent, as well as the ideas, interventions, research, and technology you're all working so hard to bring to the field and its consumers.

Today, almost a year after the exciting passage of healthcare reform, it's discouraging to see that the state budget shortfalls that bit deeply into state Medicaid funding in 2009 and 2010 will bite even deeper in 2011, despite an uptick in state revenues. Why? Because while cumulative state deficits for 2011 will be about 30 percent smaller than in 2010 (down to about $82 billion, according to, federal stimulus and FMAP moneys are essentially gone, unemployment remains stubbornly high, and Medicaid enrollment persists at record levels-over 48 million people.

So, we face a familiar question: What can be done to extend the reach and effectiveness of our field's resources at a modest cost? There are probably a hundred things, but as I prepared this issue's special section on the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson (see pages 14 to 24) one in particular rose to the top: We can get the public-young and old alike-involved in initiatives like the National Council's Mental Health First Aid training program. This is a high-impact program that's available to our communities at a modest cost-a cost that, in the case of Arizona's new MHFA initiative, is being borne by public-minded organizations, not a cash-strapped state.

Mental Health First Aid programs begin, in Arizona and elsewhere, by training and certifying (via a week-long course) hundreds of trainers from all walks of life, now and in the near future. These trainers, in turn, bring the core 12-hour Mental Health First Aid training to thousands of people in thousands of places-schools, businesses, institutions, churches, supermarkets, factories-where stigma, ignorance, and ambivalence endure.

By giving MHFA tools to people outside our field-people who may never have understood or recognized the impact of behavioral disorders on those around them-and enabling them to extend a transformative, helping hand, Mental Health First Aid could help to swing the doors of treatment open-more widely and invitingly-than ever before.

To be sure, much, much more is needed before we can be a nation that truly realizes parity-level access and support for behavioral health treatment. However, expanding the reach of Mental Health First Aid training-along with other educational efforts in schools and workplaces-is one bold, positive, and proactive step forward that we can take now.

In the aftermath of a tragedy that left so many asking the same question, “What could we have done to help this young man and avert this tragedy?” programs like Mental Health First Aid offer a logical, if partial, answer.

Dennis G. Grantham, Editor-in-Chief Behavioral Healthcare 2011 March;31(2):6