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Voices of Mental Health First Aid: One County’s MHFA Experience

“I didn’t want to go to the [Mental Health First Aid] training, but I did. I never thought I would use any of the information or remember it, but I did shortly after the training. My friend had been struggling with depression. He called me and told me he was in a bad way and was sitting at home with a gun thinking of killing himself. I told him I was coming over.  

When I got there and I listened to him, I could hear the Instructor’s voice in my head. Everything I learned started to come out of my mouth with no effort. I felt confident. I was able to get my friend to his therapist. I realized much later that I saved his life that day because I stayed at the training.”  

As a Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor, and the King CountyWash., MHFA Coordinator and program manager at Valley Cities Behavioral Healthcare, I know firsthand how empowering MHFA training can be to communities. But this story from a First Aider in King County reminds me of the impact we’re having on people’s lives and the true value of MHFA. 

The King County Mental Illness Drug Dependency (MIDD) initiative and Valley Cities Behavioral Healthcare began their MHFA partnership in 2018, and over the last two years, we have hosted more than 270 classes and trained more than 4,280 community members as Mental Health First Aiders.  

The goal of the King County MHFA Program is to enable community members to have conversations about mental health and substance use challenges and empower them to reach out and say, “I notice ” or “I’m concerned ” and to ask, “Are you thinking of suicide?”  

2020 was a powerful year for the King County MHFA program. 

  • The King County COVID-19 response group positioned the MHFA program to mitigate the mental health challenges brought by the pandemic. That included more than $50,000 to increase capacity and provide additional MHFA training. With the additional funding and the opportunity to pilot the virtual MHFA curriculumKing County set out to provide MHFA training with the focus on reaching people in Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities. The program increased participation in those communities by 75%. 
  • The King County MHFA program reevaluated its partnerships and focused on those that shared its vison of inclusion for all, regardless of geographic locationrace or nationality. 
  • King County hosted two MHFA Instructor classes and onboarded 21 new Instructors, allowing us to increase our capacity to provide MHFA training in rural, unincorporated and geographically isolated areas of King County. The additional Instructors allow us to better serve the community with Instructors who look and speak like the communities they train  

Given the success of the King County MHFA program, and despite financial challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, King County will increase the program’s budget by nearly $200,000 this year. The increased funding will result in an additional 2,500 community members being trained in MHFAThis funding will also allow the program to train all King County COVID-19 Contact Tracers, so they can provide mental health education, information and referrals to the people they reach.  

We are excited for the future of the King County Mental Health First Aid program and hope other communities will follow our bold initiative. There is so much more work to do, and we are ready to do it, with strategic planning and focus – in King County and across the country 

 

The King County Mental Illness Drug Dependency, sometimes called the Behavioral Health Tax Fund, is a county-wide sales tax generating approximately $136 million every two years. It is managed by the King County Department of Community and Human Services Behavioral Health and Recovery Division.