Responding to increases in suicide attempts and mental health crises exacerbated across Idaho by the pandemic, more than 1,400 people have now been trained in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a CPR-style instruction that enables ordinary individuals to respond to real-life, mental health situations in their communities.
“The more people that we can get trained, the more lives we are going to save,” says Sheila Murdock, a clinical nursing instructor at the College of Eastern Idaho and Brigham Young University-Idaho, one of several certified MHFA trainers across the state.
The need for such community-based mental health “first responders” in Idaho is critical, says Murdock, who also serves on the executive committee of Community Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit agency in eastern Idaho working to reduce suicide in the region, especially among youth and adolescents. In 2018, state records show that 87 adolescents and young adults took their own lives. An annual federal survey was taken before the onset of the pandemic also showed a grim upward trajectory of high school students seriously considering suicide: from 14.2% in 2009 to 21.6% in 2019.
All costs of the MHFA train-the-trainers sessions and individual training courses for more than 1,400 Idahoans through the end of 2021 were underwritten by Optum Idaho, the managed care contractor for the State of Idaho Division of Medicaid’s Idaho Behavioral Health Plan. Since 2019, Optum Idaho has sponsored MHFA trainings in all of Idaho’s seven public health districts, both in-person and virtually. The course consists of a two-hour, self-paced session of videos and related content, followed by a four-hour, online class conducted by an MHFA instructor.
In these sessions, participants – such as sheriff deputies, corrections employees, nursing students, school counselors and recovery center staff – learned how to identify signs of depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis and substance use disorders. They also absorbed how to assess someone’s risk for suicide or self-harm and how to identify youth with such common mental illnesses as anxiety, depression, eating disorders or ADHD.
“I’m able to recognize and understand when others are having a mental health episode,” says MHFA trainee Summer Gibson. “I’m able to understand the differences and levels of it. I know how to keep the calm and not interact and make it worse.”
Optum Idaho documented the results of MHFA training in one Idaho community in a recent case study and plans to further expand training opportunities for adult and youth versions of MHFA in 2022 as part of Optum Idaho’s pledge to help one individual, one family, one community at a time (visit optumidaho.com to learn more).