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House Approves Bill for Mental Health First Aid Training

The House on Monday approved a bill that would require the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to reauthorize mental health first aid training programs.

The chamber approved H.R. 1877, the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2015, by voice vote. The bill would reauthorize a grant program that trains individuals who are likely to be a first responder to a patient experiencing mental illness, such as teachers of police officers.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised the bill, sponsored by Reps. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), ahead of the vote.

“Despite the availability of evidence-based interventions, we know that there are long delays in individuals seeking treatment after the first onset of a mental health condition, and this legislation hopes to reverse that trend,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bill is a “necessary step rather than a solution to improving the mental health system in this country,” he said. Expanding access and sustained investments in the mental health system would further strengthen the country’s mental health system, he said.

Funding for the grants has been provided through the appropriations process during the past few years, Jenkins said.

“The first step to help someone suffering to get the help he or she needs is to be able to quickly spot the signs of mental illness and know where to point that friend, colleague, neighbor or family member,” she said. “The kinds of education programs that this legislation will provide authorization for has been shown to be effective and efficient in teaching people the signs of mental illness and how to drop the stigma of that illness so that someone in need can get help.”

The National Council for Behavioral Health praised the bill’s passage. Mental health first aid has helped police departments be better prepared to respond to people experience mental illnesses, they said.

“When Congress passes the Mental Health First Aid Act, more first responders and law enforcement officials will receive this valuable training,” the group said in an emailed statement. “Mental Health First Aid is a powerful tool proven to help law enforcement avert tragedy.”