Linda Rosenberg: Mental Health First Aid actually began in Australia about 10 years ago, and the idea of it is a public education program that introduces those who participate to really the risk factors and the warning signs of mental health problems. It helps them understand mental health problems, what the impact of them are, and really give an overview of common treatment. It also allows the participant to learn what they can do in a mental-health emergency. And so, in 2008, we heard about the program; it had already moved into about seven countries at that time. And we said, ‘Isn't this perfect really to bring to communities across our country?' And so we entered into a letter of agreement with the originators who were at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and we joined several other countries in rolling it out. And we have partners in this endeavor—actually, the states of Maryland and Missouri—who wanted to bring this to their states. We're doing that at the same time; we all decided to join forces and to do it together.
Jessica Zigmond: How many trainers, trainees and states are involved in the program currently, and do you have plans to expand it?
Linda Rosenberg: We definitely have plans to expand the program. We just really introduced it in the last year, and our plan is to make it as common as CPR training and first aid. You know, you're far more likely to see someone having an emotional crisis, whether it's depression—an episode of depression or it's an anxiety attack—then you are to see someone actually having a heart attack. So we think this is something that all Americans need to know about and know how to respond to the crisis. At this point, we actually began rolling the program out in 2009, so it's very, very new. But we already have had 10,000 people trained in mental health first aid in 43 different states, and we have 900 instructors. Those are the people who deliver the training
Jessica Zigmond: Rural populations have higher rates of suicide than the general population, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How do you see Mental Health First Aid USA playing a role in rural communities?
Linda Rosenberg: I think it's really perfect in rural communities. It's one of the reasons Australia began the program. They're a country with great patches and swaths of rural countryside, and what they wanted to do was to help primary-care physicians and nurses, teachers, people in the lay community, about mental illnesses and how they can be helpful. And that very much corresponds to the kind of work we can do here in the U.S. in our rural communities. We've had a number of instructors, a number of people become instructors from rural communities, and they are rolling that out right now through churches, through PTAs and particularly through colleges. So I think there's definitely a perfect kind of early intervention delivery system that people can do who are not formally trained as mental health professionals.
Jessica Zigmond: You've mentioned before that the program is well-suited to the new health reform legislation. Would you please tell us how?
Linda Rosenberg: Yeah, you know the new health reform legislation does a number of different things. It certainly expands coverage to people who didn't have insurance. It talks about redesigning how services get delivered focused on primary care before people go to emergency rooms or to specialists. But it also depends upon something they really refer to as ‘health promotion,' really intervening early and having people be more educated about illnesses, what they can do to prevent them and what they can do to really catch them early in their onset and, you know, the disease progression. Mental Health First Aid is very much a part of that. It is a health promotion program in that it does help people identify the very early stage for signs of mental illnesses and helps people learn how they can help their neighbors and their relatives as well as their co-workers.
Jessica Zigmond: Well, thank you again, Linda. This is Jessica Zigmond with Modern Healthcare magazine. Thank you for listening.