Mental health first aid discourages gun violence, as it helps lay people identify mental illness in those persons that might exhibit potential stress issues. The front line of this new treatment is instructing teachers on the warning signs of mental stress and mental illness in their students.
In Florida, State House Representative Lori Berman has proposed to provide mental health first aid training for school teachers and staff, available from the Department of Children and Families, (DCF). Berman’s mission is to spot problems early that may cause students to act out in violent or anti-social ways. The plan would be to train 30 teachers and other public servants in getting a handle on mental illness signs and teach skills to remedy the student’s possible breakdown.
Last year’s mental health bill did not pass House scrutiny, but this year’s bill has already passed muster with committees in both chambers. The Vice President of the Florida Education Association, Joanne McCall, is interested in accepting the training for teachers, but would like to see the final drafted bill to see if the details would work for Florida’s teachers. The program for mental health first aid was inspired by the Sandy Hook school gun violence incident.
DCF”s Assistant Secretary of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Nevin Smith, says the training could avert tragedy. “If we can get early recognition then we can intervene in appropriate ways in order to redirect that activity so we don’t have a major problem,” said Smith.
Mental health first aid promises to be a discouragement to gun violence, because those who need to assess basic mental illnesses in any age of the population will be there to help intervene before such violence occurs. Since over 60 percent of Americans in need of a mental health professional are not seeking that assistance, it is important that other teachers and professionals in their lives are looking out for possible breakdowns in mental stability.
Representative Ron Barber, a Democrat from Arizona, has been a proponent of mental health first aid for almost two years. Barber wrote an article stating, “While there is no single answer to preventing mass shootings, we know that untreated or undiagnosed serious mental illness has been a factor in a number of the recent tragedies.” He would like the bill in Congress, the Mental Health First Aid Act, to be passed to provide $15 million for the program to be installed in mental health centers across the country.
Cherokee-Etowah-Dekalb, CED Mental Health, introduced mental health first aid training, which will result in a certification after completing an eight week program. The Alabama curriculum teaches participants a five-step action plan to assess a situation, select and implement interventions and secure appropriate care for the individual. The process involves gaining knowledge of risk factors and signs of mental health issues, as well as an overview of common treatments for the ill, and works on removing the stigma of mental illness. CED Mental Health will be working with members of the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office along with teachers and church pastors, to strengthen their understanding about mental illness and how it affects their community.
Mental health first aid could discourage gun violence by allowing professionals and lay people the chance to understand mental stress and illnesses and respond appropriately to the potential threat to the community. Both state and federal legislators seem to be on the right track.
By Lisa M Pickering