What is MHFA and why should we care?

In Tuesday’s Expert Perspective, the National Council’s Chuck Ingoglia described the Mental Health First Aid Act, the proposed legislation which seeks $20 million in grant funding for training that prepares individuals to recognize and respond to emerging mental health conditions and crisis situations.

CFYM sat down with Lisa Goodale, Vice President of Peer Support Services at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and a certified trainer for Mental Health First Aid to learn more about the program and discuss the potential impact of this legislation. Goodale has been training individuals in Mental Health First Aid since 2010.

Lisa Goodale, M.S.W., on Mental Health First Aidlisa

CFYM: Why is Mental Health First Aid important?

LG: You’re much more likely to encounter somebody in a mental health crisis than you are to encounter someone having a heart attack or a stroke. Even though they may never encounter someone [experiencing physical trauma], people take first aid to be prepared. So when you look at the prevalence of mental health conditions, it’s a no-brainer.

People think they have to have specialized knowledge to help with mental health problems. But there’s a lot that people can do for themselves in those situations in terms of self-help, and one of the pieces of Mental Health First Aid that we highlight is how the Mental Health First Aider can help encourage someone to use self-care and support strategies.

CFYM: Where does DBSA conduct the trainings, and for what kinds of groups?

LG: We’ve done trainings in a wide variety of settings. We’ve done them in church settings. We incorporated Mental Health First Aid training into Veteran peer specialist training courses since February of this year under [DBSA’s contract with the VA to provide peer specialist training for Veterans], which has been informative and well-received by the Veterans.

We offered three different courses in collaboration with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which were pretty neat. The audience at the school—we had students and staff—included people that worked in the library, in residence halls, we had a couple instructors. In a way, students were more in tune with [understanding mental health conditions]: Well, this is normal—I just want to know how to help. The staff was more wary. Many were aware of these problems existing [in their community] but didn’t feel confident in how to address them. Participating in the course really seemed to help empower them to act.

CFYM: How are the trainings supported financially?

LG: Sometimes the institution sponsors it, like with the School at the Art Institute. Other times people pay a registration fee to attend. We’re always seeking funders to underwrite it so that we could offer it more widely for free or for very low cost.

CFYM: How would the proposed legislation change the way these trainings are delivered and the groups to which they are delivered?

LG: Besides fighting the stigma associated with mental illnesses and addictions, it would make [the training] more available to a lot more people. A lot of places are interested in the concept, but they don’t have the money. It’s a multiple-hour course, so it takes a lot of time to prepare and deliver it—and there are costs associated with it: manuals, audio/visual, etc. It adds up.

CFYM: Generally, what is the trainee response to the course?

LG: We do evaluations and people are really enthusiastic. Often people come to the course with personal experience or a friend or family member with experience [of a mental health condition], and they feel better about communicating with a loved one after the training. A lot of people come and say, It would’ve helped if someone would have done this for me.

More Trainings

There are a number of other mental health training programs available, many of which could qualify for funding under the Mental Health First Aid Act. Some widely available mental health training programs include:

Coping with Stress and Depression webinar and workshop from Families for Depression Awareness, for adults in general, family caregivers, and human resources and employee assistance professionals

Teen Depression webinar and workshop from Families for Depression Awareness, for parents, teachers, school health and guidance professionals, youth workers, and other caring adults

SOS Signs of Suicide Prevention Program from Screening for Mental Health, for middle and high school-age students, with additional training for school staff and for parents

Parents and Teachers as Allies from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), for school professionals

Treating the Invisible Wounds of War from NAMI and Army OneSource, for health professionals whose work involves service members and their families

Your Turn

Could knowing how the warning signs and how to respond to an emerging mental health condition or crisis have helped you or a loved one? Have you ever known someone wasn’t doing well but felt you couldn’t help or that it wasn’t your place? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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