U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) this week re-introduced the Mental Health First Aid Act, bipartisan legislation to expand mental health first aid training and help the public identify, understand, and address crisis situations safely.  The bill is being cosponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Rob Portman (R-OH) Jack Reed (D-RI), Dean Heller (R-NV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

“Improving mental health first aid training for individuals in the community will help ensure they have the tools they need to identify warning signs and help direct individuals to proper treatment,” said Ayotte.  “Last year, I worked across the aisle to include funding for mental health first aid training for schools in the budget of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  Our bipartisan legislation would expand the eligible training audiences to allow for even more individuals to receive this critical training.  Given the overwhelming bipartisan support for action on mental health, I urge Senate leaders to take up this important bill without delay.”

“Horrific tragedies like the one at Newtown show the importance of prioritizing mental health services as a part of a comprehensive, commonsense effort to make our communities safer,” Blumenthal said. “This legislation will make available critical training and resources for our educators, first responders and law enforcement professionals so they can recognize and respond to the earliest signs and symptoms of mental illness.”

“Sandy Hook Promise applauds Senators Ayotte and Blumenthal for reintroducing this important piece of legislation,” said Mark Barden, advocacy director of Sandy Hook Promise.  “Since our inception, Sandy Hook Promise has advocated for sensible programs that give first responders, teachers, and other individuals the knowledge and tools to assess and intervene when a child or adult is experiencing a mental health crisis. Programs like MHFA save lives and we are grateful to Senators Ayotte and Blumenthal for their leadership and relentless advocacy.”

“Senators Ayotte and Blumenthal are true champions for the 1 in 5 Americans who live with mental illness,” Linda Rosenberg, CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. “The reintroduction of the Mental Health First Aid Act represents an important step in supporting the mental health of all Americans.  Mental Health First Aid can better allow each of us to recognize symptoms of distress and know how to connect people with the help they need and deserve.  Senators Ayotte and Blumenthal are paving the way to ensure that our nation is better equipped to adequately address mental illness.”

Ayotte and Blumenthal helped introduce similar legislation last Congress, and provisions of their bill were included in the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, which received 95 votes on the Senate floor when it was offered as an amendment. The updated bill would provide grants for mental health first aid training programs for groups of eligible individuals such as teachers, first responders, police officers, school and college administrators, veterans, and nurses, among others in the community. The bill also calls for protocols for initiating timely referrals to mental health services available in the community and places a particular focus on making training available in rural areas.

Under the bill, mental health first aid training would help:

• Teach the warning signs and risk factors for schizophrenia, major clinical depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, trauma, and other common mental disorders;

• Teach crisis de-escalation techniques; and

• Provide trainees with a five-step action plan to help individuals in psychiatric crisis connect to professional mental health care.