Staff members within the behavioral-health department at Henry Ford complete a course on suicide risk and prevention and must score 100% on the follow-up test or receive additional education, according to the article in JAMA. Adequate training for healthcare professionals is an area that needs to be developed, according to Paula Clayton, medical director at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in New York. Clayton's previous experience includes serving as chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Minnesota. At the foundation—which was established in 1987—she oversees research and education.
“I think you need to train the medical community—the nurses, the secretaries in doctors' offices,” she says, adding this is because many people who are depressed seek care from their doctors, especially the elderly, of whom 50% have seen their doctor in the same month as their suicide. Clayton says not only physicians should be trained to recognize warning signs in patients.
To help train professionals who will be in contact with patients at risk, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare has partnered with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Missouri Mental Health Department to coordinate Mental Health First Aid USA, which trains and certifies instructors to deliver 12-hour mental health “first aid” courses in the community.
On Sept. 10—World Suicide Prevention Day—the National Council hosted a one-hour webcast about the program, which the council “Americanized” from the original program that was established in Australia, according to Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO at the National Council, based in Washington. The organization's members include mental health clinics, counties and substance-abuse agencies.
“It's a mental-health literacy program. You take a 12-hour course like you would for CPR,” Rosenberg says, adding that it's an interactive approach that includes videos and role-playing exercises.
Rosenberg says she became interested in the idea after she had a conversation with someone during an international mental health leadership program she attended in 2008. She sent a staff member to Australia to be trained and connected with the states of Maryland and Missouri, which were also working on it. Today, Mental Health First Aid USA is available in 43 states and about 10,000 people have taken the course. The National Council is also working with the University of Maryland on an evaluation of the project to measure its effectiveness.
“It's even more important in rural areas because of the dearth of professionals,” Rosenberg says. “We have members who have staff trained as instructors who deliver to churches, PTAs, doctors' offices.”
In addition to making sure the program's language was suited to a U.S. audience, the National Council also involved consumers who have been diagnosed with mental-health problems in the past to weigh in, Rosenberg says, adding that one of the 900 trainers who now trains others had a serious mental illness in the past.
“We're excited and it's just the beginning,” Rosenberg says. “You'll be hearing plenty more about it.”