Our Opinion: Another step forward on mental health

In the future, Missourians may look back on this decade as a time when mental health initiatives gained traction.

Among those initiatives is mental health first aid, the subject of a story in Saturday’s News Tribune.

Coincidentally, Saturday’s “Our Opinion” commended a separate statewide mental health initiative — the community health liaison program that links law enforcement, the courts and mental health professionals.

Both programs are components of Gov. Jay Nixon’s “Caring for Missourians: Mental Health Initiative.”

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an eight-hour, certification course to train participants how to recognize and respond to mental health emergencies.

This fiscal year, the more than 1,000 trainees include teachers, clergy members, employers, law enforcement officers and other first responders.

The course, according to the MHFA website, is designed to teach “how to recognize symptoms of mental health problems, how to offer and provide initial help, and how to guide a person towards appropriate treatments and other supportive help.”

Course instructors “don’t go into diagnosis, but they show a broader view of issues some may face, like depression or suicide,” said Alicia Ozenberger, an MHFA instructor and deputy direction of the Association of Community Task Forces of Missouri. “The majority of people are intimidated because they just don’t have the knowledge to intervene. There is a lot of knowledge tied to mental health, but this (the course) demystified it.”

We believe the governor and supportive lawmakers have taken commendable steps on mental health issues.

Although we cannot overlook that funding for mental health was not immune from the governor’s recent wide-ranging vetoes and withholdings, we appreciate the continued commitment to build a new Fulton State Hospital.

Mental health issues, as Ozenberger points out, may be complex and, consequently, may intimidate and baffle observers.

Mental Health First Aid aims to substitute training and awareness, so observers can respond with understanding and assistance.

MHFA trainers and trainees provide a service not only to Missouri, but to every Missourian touched by mental health concerns.

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