Creating shared value through collaboration: Mental Health First Aid one year later

May 21, 2018

In 2016 five local organizations came together to work more collaboratively around mental health. Now one year into their effort, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), has made a promising start in Rochester.

The approach seems simple; training people to help recognize and advise others experiencing a mental health crisis. The challenge is more complex; mental health covers a wide range of perceptions and conditions and the likelihood is that most people will experience a mental health crisis in their lifetimes, or know someone who will. Mental Health was identified as a top health need in both the 2013 and 2016 Olmsted County Community Health Needs assessments.

Courtney Lawson
Caption: Courtney Lawson, Executive Director for NAMI Southeast Minnesota addresses a community gathering about the Mental Health First Aid project in April 2017.

A community priority

“There is much misunderstanding surrounding mental health and mental illness in our society and this contributes to social stigma,” explains Courtney Lawson, Executive Director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Southeast Minnesota. “One can have excellent mental health and have a diagnosed mental illness that is managed very successfully. Conversely, one can have no diagnosis of mental illness and have poor mental health and experience a mental health crisis.” Mental Health First Aid helps to build a shared knowledge and understanding around mental health by training people to serve as ‘first responders’  who can help others experiencing a crisis to get appropriate assistance quickly before things become worse.

According to Lawson, the more diversity reflected in the MHFA trainers, the better. So far the effort has involved people who are not traditionally involved in the field of mental health care, including an author, a pastor and a nurse.  “We hope the classes attract people from many different backgrounds, roles and perspectives to lend their special insight and better reach all members of our community with outreach,” says Lawson.  Follow-up survey results among MHFA trainees support this statement.  To date, 67% of survey respondents have used the content with family and/or friends. 72% report they are more confident helping someone with a mental health problem as a result of taking the course.Mental Health First Aid has met its initial goal of “training the trainers” and held 6 Adult MHFA and 5 Youth MHFA classes between August 2017 and March 2018. In total, 169 community members have been certified.

Collaborations need encouragement

Mental Health First Aid was selected in November 2016 for Mayo Clinic’s inaugural Shared Value Award, voted for by Mayo Clinic staff to receive a $30,000 grant for a collaborative community project to advance health in Olmsted County. Mayo Clinic created the grant to encourage collaborative efforts around challenging issues related to community health priorities.

Courtney Lawson believes the award has boosted longer term community action for mental health.  “Since we were awarded this grant, we’ve been able to bring new people to the table and develop a memorandum of understanding,” says Lawson. “Bringing together the partners through this grant has created a stronger foundation and structure for moving forward together. It will serve us well for the future.”

Proponents of Mental Health First Aid envision the program continuing to expand as more trainers prepare more citizens to be able to recognize and assist in mental health crises with family members, neighbors, friends, and work colleagues – all they encounter through work and community life. “Ultimately, this partnership will increase awareness and break down the stigma around mental health crises and build empathy among people to better connect with one another.”

If you’re interested in participating in a Mental Health First Aid training course, you can find more information and sign up for an upcoming course here.