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Increasing Mental Health First Aid in Rural America

Written by Featured Organization on 15 July 2013.

One in five Americans has a mental illness yet only about 4 in 10 of these people receive treatment.  In rural America—where 20 percent of the country’s population lives—the challenges of getting mental health treatment are exacerbated by the fear of being misunderstood, lack of awareness about services, and chronic shortage of behavioral health providers.

Mental Health First Aid is a low-cost training that helps to build community capacity to identify mental health and substance abuse issues early.  Mental Health First Aid training in rural areas is offered through an in-person training that presents an overview of mental illness and substance use disorders, and introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems.  Participants learn a 5-step action plan to help individuals in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer, social, and self-help care.

A recent study found that people trained in Mental Health First Aid have greater confidence in helping others, a greater likelihood of advising people to seek professional help, improved concordance with health professionals about treatments, and decreased stigmatizing attitudes.

Brought to the U.S. from Australia in 2008, the pioneering Mental Health First Aid program has already been delivered to more 100,000 Americans through a network of nearly 3,000 instructors.  The training is intended for people from all walks of life, including non-clinical health care workers; school staff, counselors, and nurses; social and human services agency staff; law enforcement and corrections officers; nursing home staff; outreach workers; volunteers; clergy and members of faith communities; young people; families; and the general public.

 

Alaska Island Community Services (AICS) is testament to how Mental Health First Aid can make a difference in a rural community.  A community health center in isolated Wrangell, Alaska, AICS has used federal grant funds to train local school system personnel, staff in integrated primary and behavioral health care clinics, respite providers, and EMT first responders in Mental Health First Aid.  The training has helped to reduce discrimination, make health care more user-friendly and accessible, and has increased referrals as well as the likelihood of clients following up on referrals for behavioral health services.

Those new to Mental Health First Aid and interested in bringing the program to a rural community may review the Quick Start Guide.  To find an instructor near you who can teach Rural Mental Health First Aid in your community, visit the Mental Health First Aid website and be sure to check for the blue “rural” icon.