Programs like Mental Health First Aid and WRAP (Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities) not only save money.
They save lives.
“It just isn’t worth the risk (not to fund these programs),” Bert Nash CEO David Johnson told U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins last week.
Since 2008, more than 100,000 people nationwide have been trained in Mental Health First Aid, including more than 800 in Douglas County. The 12-hour training course — Bert Nash was one of seven pilot programs in the nation — builds mental health literacy, helping the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.
WRAP is a Bert Nash program that places a licensed mental health clinician in the schools to work with youth who are experiencing behavioral and emotional problems.
Both programs are preventative. Both programs help to identify someone who may have mental health issues and provide crisis intervention. Both programs improve the mental health of the community. And both programs can help ease the burden on the judicial system and reduce down-the-line health care costs.
During her visit to Bert Nash on Jan. 31, Jenkins, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, heard about the importance of funding programs like Mental Health First Aid and WRAP. She also visited the secondary therapeutic classroom at Bert Nash.
“It has been shown that it very much does reduce the stigma of mental illness,” Bert Nash CEO Johnson said about programs like Mental Health First Aid.
“So it just needs to be expanded, so more people can be trained,” Jenkins said.
“Yes, exactly,” Johnson said.
During her visit to Bert Nash, Jenkins greeted members of the 2013 Leadership Lawrence class, who were going through their second day of Mental Health First Aid training.
“It gives people the skills and information they need to know when a person is developing a problem, how to deal with a crisis a person may be having and how to get them the appropriate professional help,” Johnson said.
And it works.
“People who have taken Mental Health First Aid will tell you they use the training,” Johnson said. “They will say I’ve seen people have panic attacks or I’ve seen people who may be developing a psychotic disorder.”
Bert Nash’s certified instructors in Mental Health First Aid have trained, for example, church staff, law enforcement personnel and University of Kansas faculty and staff.
Mental health identification and intervention have been part of the public discussion since the Newtown, Conn., shooting in December when 20 children and six adults were killed.
“I remember Virginia Tech (in 2007 when a student shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 on the university campus), the national collegiate health assessment that year found that over 44 percent of college students reported being too depressed to function at some point in the past year,” Johnson said. “I hope those things that Congress does will concentrate on how can we get mental health services to where the kids are. I read the profiles of those shooters, and it’s like I could put a different name on them, because we’ve seen them, but those kids fell through the cracks. I want you to know we’re working very close with KU to try and prevent that from happening.”
In response to Newtown, additional funding for Mental Health First Aid was included in President Obama’s mental health proposals announced in January.
“I think the federal proposal is relatively modest (to help promote Mental Health First Aid),” Johnson told Jenkins.
“Do we need legislation to change public policy, or do we need to look at getting the proper funding?” Jenkins asked.
“I think most of the legislation is how do we get the funding to support these programs,” Johnson said. “If we have the right kind of funding, we’re going to do the right things.”
The WRAP program is aimed at reaching students where they are — in the public schools.
Started in 1997, the Bert Nash program at one time had a mental health clinician placed in all the Lawrence public schools. Because of funding challenges, the program has been scaled back. Now, a WRAP worker is assigned to two of the four Lawrence middle schools and both high schools. There is also a WRAP worker in all three Eudora schools.
“The data would suggest that’s where the dollars should be (in the elementary schools),” Jenkins said.
Eudora School Superintendent Don Grosdidier, a member of the Bert Nash Governing Board of Directors, agreed.
“It’s not necessarily the responsibility of the schools to provide the mental health services,” Grosdidier said. “But within any community that’s where the kids are, and you’ve got to bring the services to the kids.”
At one time, the city of Lawrence, Douglas County and the Lawrence School District all chipped in to fund the WRAP program.
“But when things turned south economically, we lost the city and the school funding, but the county still provides funding,” Johnson told Jenkins. “One of the biggest challenges has been, even when people recognize the importance of programs like WRAP, you can’t say whose responsibility it is for funding. My contention would be it’s all of our responsibility.”
WRAP has made a difference in the lives of students, including those who had plans to hurt themselves or others, Johnson told the congresswoman.
“We can’t give anybody a 100 percent guarantee, but we know that kids have gone to Lawrence schools with guns and plans and have gone to the WRAP worker first. That’s happened,” Johnson said, adding, “You can tell I’m passionate about that.”
“I’m glad you are,” Jenkins said, “because there’s a real need.”