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Bipartisan Coalition of Senators Introduce Mental Health First Aid Bill

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today joined a bipartisan coalition of senators led by Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to introduce legislation to expand mental health first aid training and increase the effectiveness of mental health care across America.

Other original cosponsors of the Mental Health First Aid Act include Jack Reed (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). The bill provides funding for training programs to help the public identify, understand, and address crisis situations safely. The bill also calls for protocols for initiating timely referrals to mental health services available in communities.

"Our country has experienced far too many tragedies in recent years that may have been prevented if there was better access to mental health services," Sen. Bennet said. "This bill will provide critical resources to help make sure that training is available to help identify the warning signs of mental illness, effectively respond to a crisis, and get help to those who need it. It provides a commonsense solution that can help save lives all across our country."

George DelGrosso, CEO of the Colorado Behavioral Health Council, testified in support of the bill today before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Bennet invited DelGrosso to the hearing to discuss the state of the country's mental health system as part of his efforts to bring Colorado leaders to Washington to share their ideas and commonsense solutions to the challenges facing the country.

DelGrosso participated in a panel with other mental health professionals from around the country. The discussion focused on new approaches to the early identification of mental illnesses and other mental health disorders. DelGrosso also highlighted the use of mental health first aid in Colorado.

The CBHC is a statewide organization for Colorado's community behavioral health providers. Membership organizations work with the State of Colorado to provide comprehensive behavioral health and psychiatric services to every region of the state.

The Mental Health First Aid Act will provide grants for mental health first aid training programs for groups of individuals such as teachers, first responders, police officers, school and college administrators, veterans, and nurses. The bill also outlines a particular focus on training in rural areas.

Specifically, the bill would:

Highlight available mental health resources in local communities, including Community Mental Health Centers, emergency psychiatric facilities, hospital emergency rooms and other programs offering psychiatric crisis beds;

Teach the warning signs and risk factors for schizophrenia, major clinical depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, trauma, and other common mental disorders;

Teach crisis de-escalation techniques; and

Provide trainees with a five-step action plan to help individuals in psychiatric crisis connect to professional mental health care.

The bill is endorsed by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA, and the Center for Human Development at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ), who was former Rep. Gabby Giffords's former district director and was wounded two years ago.

"The broad bipartisan support for this bill shows that politics have no place when it comes to keeping our families and communities safe and providing adequate support for those who may be experiencing a mental health crisis," said Sen. Begich. "This bill makes smart investments to increase awareness and resources for mental health services in Alaska and across the country. I look forward to seeing it move forward in the Senate."

"Our bipartisan legislation takes an important first step toward strengthening our mental health system," said Ayotte. "Improving mental health training for those who work in our schools, communities and hospitals will give them the tools they need to identify warning signs and help individuals get treatment."

"Gunmen responsible for mass shootings highlight how mental illness can cause carnage and killing," Senator Blumenthal said. "We need to identify and treat people suffering from mental illness before they damage or destroy other lives. By providing resources to train our school officials, law enforcement professionals, and emergency personnel how to recognize and refer people with mental health issues, the Mental Health First Aid Act will increase the health and safety of our communities."

"With over 350 certified mental health first aid responders, Rhode Island has been a leader in mental health first aid training. These trainings have proven to be an effective tool to help increase public safety in my home state," said Senator Jack Reed. "Recent events in Newtown underscore the urgent need to adopt proven measures that will give our first responders additional tools to meet the challenges they face and prevent future tragedies. I am pleased this bill would help communities and states replicate proven mental health first aid efforts."

"In the aftermath of the tragedy in Connecticut and too many others like it, it is important to do everything possible to keep our children safe. Strengthening our mental health system is a key part of that. While most individuals with mental illness are not a danger to themselves or anyone else, making sure those living with mental illness and their families can get the help they need is the right thing to do both for patients and for the public's safety," Sen. Stabenow.

"As a country we simply must do better when it comes to increasing access to mental health services, particularly for children and young adults," said Senator Shaheen. "This bill represents an important step towards expanding access to mental health services and provides training for healthcare professionals and teachers who work with young people. We hope that programs like these will help diminish the stigma that sadly prevents too many from seeking the treatment they need. More importantly, this could play a role in preventing future tragedies like the one we saw in Newtown last month and that is a move that our entire country should be ready to rally around."

"As a nation, we must learn how to best care for the mentally ill in the hope that we may help to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook," said Sen. Blunt. "I am committed to working with my colleagues to ensure that we do everything we can to prevent senseless acts of violence and protect our children in our schools, and setting up these mental health first aid training programs across the country is a good step in the right direction."

"To help prevent future tragedies committed by people with mental illnesses, we need measures like this to help identify early warning signs and better respond to these conditions and addictions. But most importantly, this will help our people get the treatment they need so they can continue to live their lives," said Sen. Rubio.


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