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Mental Health First Aid bill back on the table

March 13, 2015
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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This week, Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) reintroduced the Mental Health First Aid Act, bipartisan legislation that would authorize $20 million in grants to expand mental health first aid training. The bill has nine co-sponsors.

Mental Health First Aid programs train emergency services personnel, police officers, educators, primary care professionals, students and others to address crisis situations safely. In fact, thrift-store operator Goodwill recently provided training for its storefront management employees. Evidence demonstrates that the protocol works.

“The Senate’s strong bipartisan support of Mental Health First Aid is demonstrative that we are moving in the right direction—and with the $19 million for Mental Health First Aid in the Public Service Health Act, we can take even greater strides in supporting the one in five Americans who suffer with mental illnesses and addictions,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, in a statement.

Nearly 350,000 people have been trained in Mental Health First Aid in America. Since 2014, Congress has funded an annual appropriation of $15 million for such training around the country. The National Council has long supported the continuation of the funding in 2016, along with a new $4 million appropriation for Veterans’ Mental Health First Aid.

National support

The concept has widespread support. Addressing an audience of government, business and nonprofit leaders in early March, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about Mental Health First Aid as a strategy to change the dynamic to responding to mental health-related situations. Obama said she herself received some training on Mental Health First Aid.

"Improving mental health first aid training for individuals in the community will help ensure they have the tools they need to identify warning signs and help direct individuals to proper treatment," said Ayotte in a statement. "Our bipartisan legislation would expand the eligible training audiences to allow for even more individuals to receive this critical training. Given the overwhelming bipartisan support for action on mental health, I urge Senate leaders to take up this important bill without delay."

Ayotte was also one of three lawmakers who introduced the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act earlier in the week to provide liability protections to first responders, health professionals and family members who are educated in administering naloxone in an emergency situation of overdose.

The Mental Health First Aid bill calls for protocols for initiating timely referrals to mental health services available in the community and places a particular focus on making training available in rural areas.

Under the bill, mental health first aid training would help:

  • Teach the warning signs and risk factors for schizophrenia, major clinical depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, trauma, and other common mental disorders;
  • Teach crisis de-escalation techniques; and
  • Provide trainees with a five-step action plan to help individuals in psychiatric crisis connect to professional mental healthcare.