he White House followed APA’s recommendation to T
launch a national public health campaign to encourage
help-seeking behavior among people with mental health
problems. President Obama’s “National Dialogue on
Mental Health” initiative aims to reduce the stigma
associated with mental disorders.
“A lot of the research done so far has been focused on
whether the training was effective, whether people feel more
comfortable and confident — all important questions,” says
Evans. “But we need to take it a step further and look at whether
it actually results in people intervening with people.”
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration is reviewing Mental Health First Aid for
possible inclusion in the National Registry of Evidence-Based
Programs and Practices, Gibb adds.
When President Obama invited APA CEO Norman B.
Anderson, PhD, and other mental health stakeholders to a
meeting after the Newtown tragedy, a key recommendation
APA made was to launch a national public health campaign to
encourage help-seeking behavior among people with mental
health problems, says Ellen Garrison, PhD, APA’s senior policy
The president listened. In addition to calling for Mental
Health First Aid training in his plan to reduce gun violence,
Obama announced his plan to launch a “National Dialogue
on Mental Health.” The initiative aims to reduce the stigma
associated with mental disorders and to encourage those who
need mental health care to seek treatment. Vice President
Joe Biden’s office contacted APA regarding this initiative,
says Garrison, adding that APA is now working with several
organizations on related efforts.
Congress is also taking action, with broad, bipartisan
support for efforts to increase the public’s knowledge about
mental health. The Mental Health Awareness and Improvement
Act of 2013, for example, includes a mental health awareness
“It’s noteworthy and laudable that the legislation calls for the
use of evidence-based programs,” says Garrison.
But while the mental health bill passed the Senate by 95 to 2
as an amendment to a gun safety bill, she says, it was lost when
the gun safety bill was withdrawn by the majority leader due
to a lack of sufficient support. APA and other mental health
organizations are now urging the Senate to reconsider the
mental health legislation in a separate vote.
Meanwhile, several states have passed similar legislation,
often focused on teachers, coaches and other adults who work
Of course, adds Garrison, it’s also crucial to ensure that
services are available to those who do seek help after a Mental
Health First Aid or similar type of intervention. People in rural
areas, young adults who aren’t in college and older people may
face barriers to care, says Garrison, explaining that expanding
access to mental health services is a major part of APA’s federal
advocacy efforts. State, territorial and provincial psychological
associations could play a key referral role, she adds.
Meanwhile, Jorm and Kitchener have been busy tailoring
the training for particular groups. They’re piloting a course
for teens who want to be able to help their peers, for example.
In addition, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups
are asking for a Mental Health First Aid adaptation to meet
their needs. A version that blends face-to-face and Web-based
learning is another emerging priority because of feedback from
workplaces on the difficulty of scheduling 12-hour training
sessions for multiple employees. An eight-hour version of the
standard training will soon be available in the United States.
The fact that Obama mentioned Mental Health First Aid
amazes Jorm, who notes that what started as a chat during a dog
walk has snowballed.
“We didn’t realize we’d get so big,” says Jorm. “We like to
think what would happen if we got 1 percent of the world to
take Mental Health First Aid.” n
For more information about Mental Health First Aid in the
United States, visit www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org.
Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.