Although I represent the small state of Rhode Island, I can certainly validate the mental health training needs of officers nationwide, as we are all committed first responders to crisis. It is with this unique and vital role in mind, I impress upon you the meaningful impact Mental Health First Aid training has toward improving outcomes between public safety officers and persons experiencing mental health challenges.
If through this crucial training, a single officer can prevent today’s depressed person from becoming tomorrow’s barricaded subject, much has been accomplished early and safely. The public deserves and demands that officers respond to persons in crisis appropriately, with an emphasis on training. Public safety officers sought and proudly accept their vital role as community care-takers, to include responding to persons experiencing mental health challenges; yet, many lack the basic knowledge and skills enabling them to proficiently perform this important function.
I was introduced to Mental Health First Aid back in 2006, with skepticism. But it was not long before I realized the benefits of this training, as do behavioral health and public safety practitioners alike. Many of us recognized the potential for this basic course to help officers defuse crisis, promote mental health literacy, enable early intervention, combat stigma, and connect people to care.
The standard adult Mental Health First Aid course was adapted to suit paramount law enforcement safety, legal, and operational considerations. The resulting public safety model was first offered at the Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy, followed by versions presented in Philadelphia, NYC, and the District of Columbia.
To date, over eleven-hundred Rhode Island Public Safety Officers are certified Mental Health First Aid-Public Safety first-aiders, representing numerous agencies, ranks, and positions. The public safety version remains in high demand, with attendees arriving from neighboring states. Courses are planned in the near future for Brown University Police, Corrections Officers at the local Federal prison, and several RI public safety academies.
There is no denying Public Safety First-aiders communicate more frequently and effectively with community mental health center and hospital medical staff. Such improved dialogue assists healthcare professionals in their assessment and treatment efforts. I am often reminded by clinical staff, how much they rely on and appreciate behavioral observations accurately shared by police mental health first-aiders.