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First Lady Highlights Mental Health First Aid as Key to Shifting the Conversation on Mental Health


First Lady Michelle Obama yesterday called on the nation to “flip the script” on mental health by breaking through the silence and stigma surrounding these conditions. Obama gave a ringing endorsement to Mental Health First Aid as a key tool in this fight, noting that “it really gives you the skills you need to identify – and ultimately help – someone in need. Because you never know when these kinds of skills might be useful.”

Obama gave her remarks at the national kick-off event for the Change Direction campaign, an initiative designed to shift the public conversation and cultural attitudes about mental health. The Change Direction initiative includes concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders, and leaders from the private sector and was inspired by the discussion at the White House National Conference on Mental Health in 2013, which came on the heels of the Newtown tragedy.

In her remarks, the First Lady told the story of Ryan Rigdon, a veteran who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from deployment to Iraq. With the support of friends and family, Ryan was able to get the help he needed, but Obama pointed out that far too often, other veterans and members of the public fall through the cracks.

She praised organizations like the National Council and Give an Hour for their efforts to educate members of the public about mental illness and raise awareness of how to help a person experiencing a crisis. “The National Council will be training 3 million people in Mental Health First Aid,” she noted. “I went through some of this training a few weeks ago, and I saw just how useful it is.”

The National Council’s President and CEO, Linda Rosenberg responded to Obama’s remarks in a statement. “Too many veterans and their families deal with untreated mental health problems — a number disproportionate to the rest of America. The First Lady couldn’t be more correct: we have to break the silence for those who suffer and engage veterans, service members and their families reluctant to seek help,” Rosenberg said. “In this time of global turmoil, we can no longer allow the care of our military and veteran’s behavioral health to take the backseat. It’s time for change and action — by empowering ourselves to help others, using the tools we have at our disposal, like Mental Health First Aid.”

Since 2014, Congress has funded an annual appropriation of $15 million for Mental Health First Aid trainings around the country. The National Council strongly supports the continuation of this funding in 2016, along with a new $4 million appropriation for Veterans’ Mental Health First Aid. We also applaud the bipartisan sponsors of the Mental Health First Aid Act, soon to be reintroduced in the 114th Congress, and call on Congress to move swiftly to enact this important legislation.

The National Council is grateful to our partners in making Mental Health First Aid USA such a valuable national program – the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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