Thank you, Sen. Begich, for fighting for mental health awareness

02/10/2014

Alaska has the second highest rate of suicide in the United States -- a country where more than 38,000 people take their own lives each year.

Over the past year there have been numerous debates and hearings on Capitol Hill culminating in a series of legislative proposals that await further action or have completely stalled. Except for one -- the Mental Health First Aid program championed by Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. The program received $15 million in the omnibus appropriations bill that provides funding for the federal government through September 30, 2014.

The funding supports Mental Health First Aid training to help first responders, educators, students, parents and the general public identify and respond to signs of mental illness and to expand mental health awareness in communities nationwide.

Mental Health First Aid is a groundbreaking public education program designed to help family, friends and co-workers identify and assist someone with a mental illness. The 8-hour interactive course teaches participants how to create a safe and respectful atmosphere for individuals who may show symptoms of a mental health disorder.

Just as CPR training helps people without medical training assist someone experiencing a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid educates community members on how to help people in a mental health crisis until professional assistance arrives.

Research has shown that those trained in Mental Health First Aid have greater confidence in providing help to others, improved mental health literacy, greater confidence in advising others or seeking professional help for themselves, and a change in attitude regarding mental illnesses.

The funding that was secured for Mental Health First Aid, in large part due to Sen. Begich’s persistent and tireless advocacy, moves us one step closer to becoming a more informed country, empowered to help change negative perceptions about mental illnesses.

As citizens of the “Last Frontier” we owe it to ourselves and our neighbors to do more to promote mental health care and raise awareness of suicide prevention. The Alaska Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is here to help and looks forward to working with leaders like Mark Begich to promote the mental health and well-being of all Alaskans.

Dennis Lasley is the chair of the Alaska chapter of the American Federation of Suicide Prevention.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints.