On April 24, 2014, the National Council for Behavioral Health launched the Mental Health First Aid for Veterans program at the National Press Club with several key speakers in attendance to speak on behalf of the program. This Health First Aid program would train every day individuals to recognize and respond to the warning signs of mental health and would provide them with the resources to better assist veterans in the community.
Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health spoke about the program in detail, referencing examples of when it had helped veterans suffering from mental health illnesses. The program is located in over 20 countries and is estimated to have trained 250,000 people in mental health first aid by this upcoming summer of 2014. The program looks to train instructors in local communities who can then teach people within their community these same skills in hopes of getting them connected to the issue and encouraging locally driven activism for mental health awareness. Linda emphasized that 30% of active duty military personnel have a mental health condition and that less than 50% of returning veterans are actually receive the care they need. These statistics have influenced the current rate of 22 daily veteran suicides and is the reason behind her motivation to make this program a success. The main take-away of her speaking time is that “if you have been trained in mental health, you can help”.
Patrick Kennedy, Co-founder of One Mind for Research and former U.S. Representative had some very powerful and encouraging words regarding the program; he emphasized the need to change the mindset and attitude surrounding mental health conditions and eliminate the stigma. By training individuals to recognize the signs of mental health issues we can ensure that more people will get the treatment they need because there will be a stronger and more knowledgeable support system surrounding veterans upon their arrival home. Patrick spoke of how we need to educate people to realize that mental illness is “not a character issue but a chemical issue” and through this Mental Health First Aid education more people will come to understand that and will be more open to talking about these health conditions.
Tom Tarantino, Chief Policy Director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America spoke out about the high suicide rate among veterans saying “suicide isn’t the problem, it’s the end result of a series of problems…if someone new how to treat mental health wounds early on that problem could be fixed”. He argues that getting treatment is the most effective way of aiding mental health and spoke highly of the Mental Health First Aid program as it will train individuals to have the tools needed to aid those with mental health conditions. Overall, it was an insightful and well put together launch of the program.