Bill to train people in first aid for mental health passes House

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

A bill to create a training program for mental-health first aid has unanimously passed the state House and is in the Senate.

“The Mental Health First Aid Act will put this evidence-based training program in the hands of educators, law enforcement, first responders, military personnel, our faith leaders—really anyone who interacts with the general public and anyone at risk,” said Moser, who chairs the House Health and Family Services Committee.House Bill 153, sponsored by Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, would train people in how to best address the needs of someone experiencing a mental-health or substance-use crisis.

Moser noted that mental health is the underlying cause of many issues in society, such as substance-use disorder, suicide and violence.

To that point, she said Kentucky has a high rate of substance misuse and addiction problems, with 1,333 people dying from a drug overdose in 2019. She added that in 2017, 766 Kentuckians died by suicide and noted that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34 and the U.S. suicide rate for veterans is 17 per day.

She said the objectives of the program are to build mental health and substance use literacy and to help the public identify, understand and respond to the early signs of mental health issues.

The curriculum is already being used in pockets of the state and this program will take it statewide, she said. She added that the certification does not replace a licensed counselor and is not mandated.

The training would be administered by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and would be paid for through a trust, funded with state and federal appropriations, grants and private donations.

“Any money in this trust fund would be used specifically for this training program or suicide prevention programs,” she said.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, a nurse, praised the legislation, but voiced concern that there was no funding allocated for it. She called on the lawmakers to find a way to fund it other than “begging for donations and handouts.”

“I think that is a very poor way to try to fund one of the most important pieces of legislation [for] the neediest of our citizens with substance abuse issues and mental illness,” Marzian said.

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