“It’s hard growing up with social media. A lot of kids have suicidal thoughts, more than we realize.” Stephanie Ratner, a therapist of the Mental Health Center of Denver Montbello school, stated. This isn’t far from the truth as people who claimed their lives shared depression quotes and sad images in their social media pages before their final hours. Most people thought that these were attention-seeking, but truthfully, they were cries of help left unheard and misunderstood until it was too late. Now, this recent wave of Mental Health First Aid Programs in America aims to change that.
What is Mental Health First Aid?
As a result of the Mental Health First Aid Act passed in legislation on 2015, the American government has actively supported the implementation of Mental Health First Aid programs with the aim of improving mental health, deterring the increase of suicide rates, and reducing the stigma of mental illness in the American community. The Mental Health First Aid program is an 8-hour training course that teaches how to deal with people who have mental illnesses. It may be divided into smaller sessions depending on the instructor, who must be legally certified under the standards prescribed in the Mental Health First Aid Act. Mental Health First Aid programs equip participants with the knowledge of risk factors and warning signs to look out for, general information about common mental health disorders, a 5-step action plan to follow when dealing with a crisis, and locations to get professional and medical help.
How has it been so far?
According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, Mental Health First Aid programs have taught around one million people who are now competent enough to help those who are suffering from mental health disorders. This has been made possible by opening Mental Health First Aid programs to teachers, nurses, religious leaders, medical professionals, and police officers. However, the one million mark is only just the beginning as Linda Rosenberg, president, and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health aims to make the knowledge of Mental Health First Aid as common as knowing how to do CPR.
Mental Health First Aid programs have been working its magic in different social fields, particularly schools, the workplace, and even foster care. The Mental Health First Aid (MFHA) England has launched the Youth MFHA in Schools Programme which aims to equip at least one teacher or staff in state secondary schools the necessary knowledge and skills to help their students who are suffering from mental illnesses. This year, the government of the UK is funding 3,000 venues for Mental Health First Aid programs and asking 1,000 secondary school staff to participate in the nationwide training programs.
The global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright is heading Mental Health First Aid programs in the workplace. Aiming to prevent the stigma that deters their lawyers from seeking treatment, the firm has trained 20 of their U.S. employees with Mental Health First Aid. On the other hand, National Foster Parents Association (NFPA), with its partners, have been lobbying to add foster care in the Mental Health First Aid training curriculum. Children of the foster care system have been called the “most vulnerable of the vulnerable” as they came from families with the history of mental illnesses, drug addiction, domestic abuse, and the likes. For these reasons, the children in the foster care system deserve to be attended by caregivers and professionals in the foster care service who are trained under Mental Health First Aid programs.
Mental Health First Aid programs have a history of success stories in impacting people and communities. According to the research study of the University of Melbourne on Mental Health First Aid programs in Australia, participants of the training program show a better understanding of mental illnesses and their treatments, better confidence in dealing with crisis and providing help, improved mental health, and less stigmatization of people with mental disorders.