The Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council (CBHC) is the statewide membership organization for Colorado’s network of 28 community behavioral health providers. Collectively, these organizations provide skilled therapeutic and community resources to meet the behavioral health needs of thousands of Coloradans in both urban and rural communities. CBHC started offering Mental Health First Aid trainings in 2007, and has trained 42,000 First Aiders statewide as of 2017.
CBHC is one of the earliest organizations to embrace Mental Health First Aid training in the United States, and shares that its involvement has largely been driven by two factors: strong alignment between Mental Health First Aid’s, CBHC’s and CBHC’s members’ missions and goals, and the platform the partnership provided for other community partnerships. Brian Turner, deputy director of CBHC, said, “Breaking down stigma and discrimination, and helping everyone to develop baseline mental health literacy, are elements of our mission. Mental Health First Aid is not only aligned with those goals, but a means to achieving them.”
As a coordinator and convener of mental health organizations in Colorado, CBHC is concerned with advancing the work of its member organizations. Mental Health First Aid acts as a coordination tool for CBHC’s member organizations, providing a program that everyone can get behind and a statewide initiative that each member can take pride in pushing forward. Finally, Turner highlighted the value of trainings as a platform for educating and engaging key community partners. Turner says that Mental Health First Aid “[takes] the mystery and complexity out of behavioral health, allowing us to get our message across to other players in the system. This has provided new inroads to our most critical partners.”
The CBHC team credits the executive director of one of its member organizations, Carl Clark, with introducing them to Mental Health First Aid. Turner said, “Carl Clark came to one of our director meetings and pitched Mental Health First Aid to his peers. It was easy to see that the cost from both a financial and time investment perspective would be low for the return you get.”
Moreover, training First Aiders offers CBHC an engaging pathway for increasing mental health awareness, more so than other campaigns that have been tried in the past. Turner noted, “We’ve tried anti-stigma campaigns and other approaches, but these were always expensive, time-limited, and difficult to measure. We know exactly how many people we’ve trained, and survey evaluation results help us to understand First Aider satisfaction with the program. We also hear about the impact the trainings have on First Aiders anecdotally.” Mental Health First Aid also acts as a gateway program, highlighting the value of complementary trainings focused on suicide prevention and crisis de-escalation for law enforcement officers, among others.
The numbers speak for themselves in Colorado. Over 42,000 First Aiders have been certified across the state and more than 500 Instructors have been trained through CBHC’s Instructor trainings. Turner also reported that Mental Health First Aid is having an impact on First Aiders in their daily lives: “We hear First Aiders say that they have changed the way they act because of Mental Health First Aid and that this has impacted their relationships with family, friends and coworkers. They say, ‘responding has made all the difference for us.’”
Shifts in the professional landscape have also occurred, particularly with those who are likely to deal with mental health crises: “The Juvenile Justice Commission has taken huge steps forward on mental health thanks to Mental Health First Aid and has recently made a commitment to train every officer in the state. This is particularly exciting due to the historic stigmatization of mental health in the law enforcement field.” A ripple effect from a legislative lens has also begun, as new restrictions have been placed on holding people experiencing a mental health crisis in jail instead of helping them to find treatment.
In the coming years, CBHC plans to build on the strong foundation it has established. The organization will continue to host two to three Instructor trainings annually to ensure that the Instructor pool in Colorado is refreshed regularly. The organization has developed a set of criteria that it believes will allow it to train Instructors who are highly likely to meet annual training goals. In addition, CBHC is investing in community building activities, such as Instructor brunches and lunches and local Instructor meetups, to ensure that Instructors can learn from one another and have the support they need to thrive.
Finally, CBHC will continue to focus on ensuring that Colorado’s certified First Aiders are representative of the state’s population, in terms of both geographic and ethnic diversity. Turner mentions, “We’ve really begun to focus on [geographic] representation. We’re committed to ensuring that per capita representation is even across the state.”