Taking a Preventative Approach Towards Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Disorders

Although much focus has been on the identification and treatment of mental illness and substance abuse disorders, less progress has been made in the area of prevention – perhaps in part due to the difficulty in measuring the effects of such efforts. Certainly public awareness, achieved through education on these issues, might go a long way in reducing stigma and supporting a culture of sensitivity. In this vein, Mental Health First Aid, a program operating under the auspices of the ORYGEN Research Center at the University of Melbourne, Australia, runs a 12 hour course designed to provide the public with the skills to help someone who is developing or experiencing mental health issues. Participants in the course learn about risk factors and warning signs for mental health issues, engage in experiential activities that build an understanding of the impact of illness on individuals and families, and are presented with evidence-supported treatment and self-help strategies.

Mental Health First Aid has been replicated in a number of countries. The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health have collaborated with the program’s founders to bring the program to the U.S.  Five published studies in Australia show that the program “saves lives, improves the mental health of the individual administering care and the one receiving it, expands knowledge of mental illnesses and their treatments, increases the services provided and reduces overall stigma by improving mental health literacy.”

To find more information about courses near you, news and updates, becoming an instructor, and viewing Webinars, see the Mental Health First Aid USA website here.

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