- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - New York City is embarking on a $30 million plan to provide some mental health training to staffers at community organizations. Here’s a closer look at the city’s project and some other initiatives that prepare nonprofessionals to be a front line of mental health help:



Announced this summer, the “Connections to Care” initiative in New York City is now soliciting applications from day care centers, family homeless shelters, job-training programs and some other organizations; about a dozen will be chosen. The idea is to make introductory mental health aid more readily available in settings where people already go for other services, then to study whether it benefits them. Staffers will be trained to identify and respond to common mental health and substance abuse problems, provide information, do interviews aimed at spurring people to change their lives and “have a conversation about the discomforts they’re experiencing in life actually being a mental health challenge,” says Darren Bloch, the executive director of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the city’s philanthropic arm. The federal government and various foundations are financing the initiative, which is part of a broader mental health campaign by city first lady and Mayor’s Fund chairwoman Chirlane McCray.



Philadelphia has set a goal of putting 10 percent of its population - about 150,000 people - through “mental health first aid” training. About four years into the effort, over 10,000 people ranging from police to religious leaders to college students have been trained, says city Behavioral Health Commissioner Arthur Evans, a psychologist. “It demystifies what mental illness is, and it helps to demystify how people get help and support,” Evans said by phone. Lay people also help with mental health screenings at health fairs, with professionals by their side, Evans said. And like other jurisdictions including New York, Philadelphia uses peer workers - people who have experienced mental illness themselves - in some contexts.



Mental health first aid - as laid out in a program designed by an Australian psychologist and his wife, a nurse - gained a foothold in the United States in 2008 and has made big strides since. At least 450,000 people have been trained in the U.S. alone, said program spokesman Bryan Gibb (it’s run in the U.S. by the nonprofit National Council for Behavioral Health and the Maryland and Missouri health departments). Mental health first aid got a big boost in 2013, when President Barack Obama called for $15 million a year to provide the training to teachers and others who work with youths; the money has since been allocated. The generally eight-hour course describes how to recognize indicators of possible mental illness, give some immediate comfort and provide self-help strategies or a professional referral for the longer term. While not intended to teach people to diagnose or treat mental disorders, it give some basics about them. Studies - some by the program’s own founders - say it’s effective at making people more knowledgeable and sensitive about mental health problems and more inclined to intervene, but there’s little data thus far on how it affects the people they aim to help.



Created by a Massachusetts psychiatrist who wasn’t comfortable with MHFA, emotional CPR deploys trainers who have recovered from mental health problems themselves, and it focuses on meeting crisis on emotional terms. During the 14-hour course, trainers talk about feelings instead of symptoms, avoid diagnostic terms and emphasize connecting with people nonverbally, founder Dr. Daniel Fisher says. “When you’ve been through these experiences, you realize that you can still be reached, even if you’re not apparently making sense,” says Fisher, a University of Massachusetts Medical School professor who is frank about having been a psychiatric patient before pursuing a career in the field himself. With over 1,000 people trained worldwide, emotional CPR hasn’t been as widely adopted as mental health first aid. Users include Los Angeles County’s health department, which has sponsored training sessions for staffers and residents.

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