Editorial: Mental health first aid

Greenville, N.C.

Greenville Daily Reflector

A new statewide training program to help people who work with youth recognize the signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions is the result of some good work on the part of N.C. DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and Gov. Pat McCrory. But there is still much work to be done in providing treatment for those who suffer from mental illness.

Wos on Friday recognized the first group of 32 instructors under the state's Youth Mental Health First Aid program. The group will train other adults in 95 counties who regularly deal with young people, according to a DHHS news release. The program is a positive step that appears to be in direct response to nationwide school safety awareness issues that intensified following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, in which a mentally ill young man fatally shot 20 school children and six adults.

The Youth Mental Health First Aid program is part of the governor's N.C. Center for Safer Schools, which sponsored a series of public forums on school safety.

Deby Dihoff, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness - North Carolina, touched on the need for more public awareness of mental health issues during an interview last October with the liberal public policy think tank, N.C. Policy Watch.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes that we make is to not have the regular response that we would have to somebody who has a heart attack, in the emergency room, as when someone has a mental health crisis," Dihoff said. "Our follow-up care is really pretty abysmal."

As the former director of Pitt County Mental Health, Dihoff has among her experiences a 2006 tragedy involving a man with a bipolar disorder who was shot to death by Greenville police after leading them on a car chase. That incident led to more and better training programs for police in identifying and dealing with people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Identifying mental health problems as a public safety issue, of course, is only part of what is needed. As Dihoff said in October, follow-up care is critical, too.

The Youth Mental Health First Aid program is a positive step, to be sure. It will be a fully successful one when those identified through the program can count on receiving thorough and effective mental health services in North Carolina.