On Monday, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing joined the Eating Disorders Coalition to host a congressional staff briefing on Capitol Hill. The briefing focused on the importance of early identification of mental health and substance use disorders and the need for evidence-based trainings that help Americans understand how to reach out to someone experiencing a crisis. Mental Health First Aid was highlighted as one of these trainings.
At the briefing, panelists discussed the clinical effectiveness of early identification and intervention. By intervening early and helping people access treatment as soon as possible, there is a greater likelihood that an individual will achieve recovery and stave off long-term mental illness or substance abuse. Some of the panelists made the economic case, arguing that early intervention and treatment saves money for public health programs in the long run.
Michael Allora, a Deputy Fire Chief in Clifton, New Jersey spoke about his experiences training his colleagues in Mental Health First Aid. At first, trainings focused on teaching firefighters how to help civilians in crisis. However, since the training, Mr. Allora said he has spent more time speaking and working with his colleagues in the fire service, addressing their behavioral health needs. “Mental Health First Aid literally saves lives,” he said. “I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of a conversation with firefighters struggling with depression, post-traumatic stress, and thoughts of suicide. This program works.”
Kirsten Hagland, Miss America 2008 and a national advocate for the Eating Disorders Coalition, shared her personal story living with and recovering from an eating disorder. For years in her adolescence, she lived with anorexia, and despite her parents’ clinical training as hospital nurses, neither one saw the signs and symptoms of their daughter in trouble. “We need people to know that if they are struggling, they can reach out and it is not a sign of weakness,” she said. She said that training medical professionals, teachers and school administrators was imperative to getting people the help they need before a crisis.
Other panelists for this briefing included: Dr. Edward Tyson, an experienced practitioner and trainer of physicians nationwide on early identification of eating disorders; and Becky Scott, the Human Resources Director at Berrien Mental Health Authority in Michigan. Ms. Scott spoke about her experiences teaching Mental Health First Aid and shared success stories she learned from her students.
This briefing was sponsored by Mental Health First Aid Act (S. 711) sponsor Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), as well as Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).
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