LACONIA — By the close of the week three clinicians at Genesis Behavioral Health will become certified Mental Health First Aid Instructors equipped to train others from all walks of life to recognize and respond to someone on the verge of crisis arising from mental illness or substance abuse.
"This is really the first step toward destigmatizing mental illness," said Maggie Pritchard, executive director of Genesis.
This week the New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association (CBHA), consisting of the 10 community mental health centers in the state, in partnership with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), is hosting the first statewide training program offered in the country. Pritchard said that each community mental health center allotted three places in the program. Once certified, she added, each trainer will provide at least three training sessions in their agency's catchment area.
"This training is for anyone," Pritchard said, "from police and corrections officers to store owners, school teachers and family members. Anybody likely to deal with someone with mental illness. It will help get people get treatment, in the right place at the right time," she added. "So much of what we do is reactive. This is a pro-active approach."
Jay Couture, president of the CBHA, said that "this training program will elevate the role of first aid for mental health, in the same fashion that first aid is used to address medical injuries and other healthcare emergencies."
Those who undergo the training will be prepared to teach others how to recognize the symptoms of mental illness, alleviate an emergent crisis and make a referral to appropriate services. Students are taught a five-step action plan with the acronym 'AGLEE," that consists of assessing the risk, listening non-judgementally, giving reassurance, encouraging professional help and encouraging self-help. Since Mental Health First Aid originated in 2008, some 2,500 instructors have trained more than 100,000.
Pritchard credited United States Senator Kelly Ayotte with expanding the program. "Senator Ayotte really got on the bandwagon after Sandy Hook," she explained. With Senator Mark Begich (D-Arkansas), she sponsored the Mental Health First Aid Act, which by establishing the training program ensured future funding for the initiative. Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Representatives Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster, all New Hampshire Democrats, supported the legislation.