Programs like Mental Health First Aid are elevating mental health in the national discourse.
We’re seeing new resources in the workplace when it comes to First Aid. Next to the metal box with a red cross are defibrillators to treat heart attacks and workplace classes to instruct employees on how to use the devices properly. But there’s a gap in mental health and substance use that is ignored and simply seems too complex. Not anymore. That’s where Mental Health First Aid comes in.
Why is addressing mental health so difficult?
If we see someone bleeding, we know we should stop the bleeding. If someone breaks an arm or leg or has chest pains, we call 911. Mental health issues can be complicated and not as easy to detect. Oftentimes, we are reminded that we’re not a trained psychologist or simply don’t recognize the signs. We often conclude someone is “just having a bad day.”
Bad days add up
Psychological health and physical health are equally important, and have a synergistic relationship. Someone who is physically sick can feel depressed. Someone who is depressed can be predisposed to become physically sick. Poor heart health can make your lethargic. Diabetes can affect your performance and attendance at work. An auto-immune disease can significantly compromise your ability to perform on many levels. A mental health or substance use concern can often lead to these issues, as well.
Mental Health First Aid is a step forward
A program called Mental Health First Aid is designed to give managers, human resources professionals and others the ability to identify potential mental health and substance use concerns. The publically available, skills-based, in-person training outlines a five-step action plan that equips employees with the tools they need to notice the signs and symptoms of a possible mental health or substance use concern and identify the tools and resources available to respond to a crisis, refer to supportive services, or deescalate a situation, if necessary. Employers can implement Mental Health First Aid as part of an employee engagement or workplace wellness program focused on improving whole health and wellness, as well as to address the effects of mental illness on productivity and associated costs.
Mental Health First Aid is a global initiative available in 23 countries with origins in Australia. It was adapted for the United States in 2008, where it is administered by the National Council for Behavioral Health in partnership with the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The program is available in two different packages: an 8-hour Mental Health First Aid Certification Program and a 4-hour Mental Health First Aid Course.
In July 2015, the National Council established a groundbreaking corporate collaboration with Aetna, one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, to provide Mental Health First Aid training opportunities to Aetna and its customers.
According to Hyong Un, M.D., chief psychiatric officer for Aetna Behavioral Health, “Mental Health First Aid supports the effort to fight mental health stigma in the United States. By acknowledging the issue of mental health in the workplace, the training program gives employees the tools they need to quickly identify when a fellow coworker is having an issue.”
And the Federal Government has also taken notice of Mental Health First Aid’s value and efficacy by introducing The Mental Health First Aid Act of 2015.
If enacted, the legislation (S. 711/H.R. 1877) would authorize $20 million for Mental Health First Aid. Under this funding, participants would be trained in:
- Recognizing the symptoms of common mental illnesses and substance use disorders
- De-escalating crisis situations safely
- Initiating timely referral to mental health and substance abuse resources available in the community
Approximately $15 million was appropriated in 2014 and 2015 for Youth Mental Health First Aid – a figure which must be protected moving forward. To top it off, approximately 30 peer-reviewed studies from across the globe demonstrate the value of Mental Health First Aid. In 2014, research published in the International Review of Psychiatry showcased how Mental Health First Aid increased participants’ knowledge regarding mental health, decreased negative attitudes and increased supportive behaviors toward individuals with mental health disorders. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration honored Mental Health First Aid with inclusion in its National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.
Mental Health First Aid is growing
More and more individuals are embracing the program. In fact, the National Council has trained 430,000 Mental Health First Aiders to date in the United States. The training offers some basic foundations for a new way of thinking about mental health including:
- Awareness of the range and types of conditions.
- Understanding of the fact that many of these conditions are genetic or simply a function of how someone’s brain is “wired.”
- Education as to how and why some individuals are challenged by mental health issues.
- Sensitivity to the person as a patient who needs treatment on the same level as someone with a physiological condition.
- Inclusion of the treated person or patient following an effective course of treatment in the same way we would embrace someone recovering from a surgical or other course of physical treatment and therapy.
It’s about time
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.7 million, or 18.6% of the population—experiences mental illness in a given year. That’s why Mental Health First Aid is long overdue. Hopefully, programs like these will advance the sensitivity and treatment of mental health to the same level as conditions affecting physical health.
Taking Mental Health First Aid is a common sense, simple step every adult can take to support those who may be dealing with a potential mental illness or substance use concern. To learn more or to find a Mental Health First Aid training near you, please visit http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/