Mental Health First Aid is taking shape in Missouri, five years after it was introduced in the state through the efforts of staff of the Mental Health Transformation grant, awarded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The five-year grant will wrap up by March, and sustaining Mental Health First Aid is a priority.
“Our main focus with Mental Health First Aid has been twofold,” said Benton Goon, co-chair of the state Transformation Working Group and Missouri’s representative on the national Mental Health First Aid USA planning team. “We wanted to train enough instructors so that the course is available in all areas of the state, and we wanted to initially target training to groups who are most receptive and where it could be most useful.”
Those objectives seem to have paid off. The state now has 183 certified instructors of Mental Health First Aid statewide, and – in addition to mental health agencies – higher education agencies and faith-based organizations have become partners in the effort to spread the word.
In higher education, St. Louis Community College was the first to take the reins and have instructors trained to provide the course at all of its satellite campuses. To date, eight other colleges and universities in the state each have at least one Mental Health First Aid instructor among its staff. Most recently, officials at the University of Missouri committed to provide funds to offer the course at no charge to its participants. One of the school’s instructors – psychologist Christy Hutton – currently serves on the Mental Health First Aid national training team. Hutton and another national trainer – Sharon Thomas-Parks, CEO of Abacus Behavioral Consulting – recently taught the 12-hour course to 200 people at the university’s Columbia campus. The university’s Office of the Provost for Undergraduate Studies is funding all materials for the courses and plans to hire an additional trainer from the national training team.
In the faith community, the Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) awarded a grant to the Department of Mental Health to provide funding for courses. The effort began in a 17-county area in southern Missouri, enlisting Community Mental Health Centers and the National Alliance on Mental Illness - Missouri to work with churches and other faith organizations to train instructors and schedule courses. There currently are 20 instructors trained in the faith community, 17 faith-based 12-hour courses have already been conducted, and 71 courses are scheduled through February 2012.
The next phase of Mental Health First Aid is training specifically designed for persons who work with young people. The draft version of the youth manual for Mental Health First Aid has been completed and the first test course will be offered in Missouri. “So often, the signs of mental health problems can be identified in youths, but people don’t know what to look for,” said Goon. “We are excited to have this youth course coming together and to pilot it in Missouri. Early intervention can be key to a successful outcome in treating mental health, and although the general Mental Health First Aid course can be used to identify issues in all people, young people have specific issues that can offer insight into effective treatments.”
Prior to the development of the youth materials, the Moberly, Missouri, school district sent 14 staff members to be trained as Mental Health First Aid instructors in June 2011.
With the Transformation grant ending, the day-to-day operations of Mental Health First Aid in Missouri have been transferred to the Missouri Institute of Mental Health (MIMH), based in St. Louis under the auspices of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Represented by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Missouri continues to serve as a national partner in Mental Health First Aid USA, along with the state of Maryland and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.
For more information on Mental Health First Aid in Missouri, contact Brendolyn Bailey-Burch at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health ([email protected] or 314-877-6458) or go to www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org to locate area courses.