Examining the benefits of training nonprofessionals in mental health outreach

Examining the benefits of training nonprofessionals in mental health outreach

At least one person in approximately 48 percent of all households in the United States has sought mental health care within the past year, according to a 2004 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA). However, high cost of care, lack of insurance coverage and stigma surrounding mental health issues still keep many from seeking help. A new initiative in New York City aims to train nonprofessionals in mental health intervention to increase the availability of resources for those struggling with psychological disorders or substance abuse issues.

The “Connections to Care” initiative in New York City is a $30 million program making mental health training available to staff at day care centers, human resources departments, homeless shelters and other individuals involved in social services. Once the training has been completed, these individuals are qualified to screen for mental health issues and provide resources to those who reach out. These services are not meant to be in lieu of therapy or advanced care, but rather to start the dialogue and provide information to those who might be hesitant to take that first step into a therapist’s office.

Some psychiatrists and psychologists fear that nonprofessionals might overstep and begin diagnosing mental health disorders or providing counseling services beyond their training and qualifications. However, their services are needed, as the demand for mental health services far exceeds the amount of professionals available, according to Dr. Gary Belkin, head of the New York City Health Department’s mental health sector. Dr. Belkin explains, “If we’re really going to take on mental illness, as widespread and impactful as it is, we’re not going to reach that scope of impact with one provider at a time.”

The critical role nonprofessionals can play in mental health services has been recognized on a national level since the launch of “mental health first aid” in 2008. In 2013, President Obama requested that $15 million in funds be allocated to the program, which was founded by the National Council for Behavioral Health and various health departments nationwide. Approximately 450,000 individuals have taken this training to date. Los Angeles and other counties nationwide have also implemented “emotional CPR” training, first developed by Dr. Daniel Fisher. This program is specifically for crisis situations, and trains those who have recovered from mental health issues to perform outreach and crisis management duties. As Dr. Fisher notes, “When you’ve been through these experiences, you realize that you can still be reached, even if you’re not apparently making sense.”

The impact nonprofessionals can have on those in mental health crises is still being determined, as New York City’s new initiative serves as a guinea pig for other cities looking to implement similar programs. If you or a loved one is facing mental health issues and is in need of further help, call the California Mental Health Helpline to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer