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Mental health first-aid bill to get full committee review

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Supporters of a program that trains ordinary people to respond to mental health crises appear to have a shot at getting five years of funding from Congress.

The House Energy & Commerce Committee expects to mark up H.R. 1877, the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2016 bill, Tuesday. The committee’s health subcommittee revised and endorsed the bill last week.

The current version of the bill would provide about $15 million per year in grant support for mental health first aid training programs from federal fiscal year 2017 through federal fiscal year 2021. Federal fiscal year 2017 begins Oct. 1, 2016.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (D-Kan.) introduced the bill together with Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). Thirty-five of the cosponsors are Democrats, and 11 are Republicans. 

Australians started the international Mental Health First Aid movement in 2001, in an effort to give teachers, police officers, human resource directors, acute medical care workers, long-term care services workers and others ideas about what to do when they talk to people who are going through health crises.

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The Washington, D.C.-based National Council for Behavioral Health, a group for state addiction services associations, worked with the Missouri Department of Mental Health to bring the idea to the United States 10 years ago. The federal government began supporting the U.S. version of the program in 2014, and it provided about $15 million in funding for fiscal year 2016, according to the National Council.

The program has already trained about 600,000 people, including many first-aid trainers.

Aetna, which is based in Hartford, Connecticut, less than 50 miles away from the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, has provided financial support for the program, and it’s also offered the program to its employees and its group health customers.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (D-N.H.) has introduced a companion bill, S. 711, the Mental Health First Act of 2015 bill, in the Senate. That bill has been sitting on the shelf at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions since March 2015. Ayotte has lined up six Republican cosponsors and 12 Democratic cosponsors for her version of the bill.


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