Sunday, September 20, 2015

NYC plan trains lay people as mental health screeners -

 — The training session asked workers how they would respond to troubled people — a drug user, an abuse victim or someone with bipolar disorder — that they might encounter on the job.

They weren't doctors or therapists, and their employer, a wide-ranging youth outreach organization called The Door, isn't only a counseling center. But mental health how-tos are part of everyone's training, whether they're career advisers or basketball coaches, and reaching out to offer help is part of everyone's job.

New York City is about to put that idea to a major test: a $30 million plan to provide mental health training to staffers at social service organizations. They'll be prepared to screen people for possible psychological problems, provide information and try to motivate them to make changes in their lives.

"Everyone can be a healer," city first lady and mental health advocate-in-chief Chirlane McCray said in a statement.

It's an increasingly popular approach to extending the thinly stretched mental health system, fostering awareness and reaching people who don't seek out professionals. But there also has been some debate over what role nonprofessionals should play.

The concept dates to the 1960s but has taken new hold recently in places from Philadelphia, which trained 10,000 workers and residents in "mental health first aid" and is aiming for 150,000, to Goa, India, where a 2,700-patient experiment found some benefits to including lay counselors in psychological care.

The World Health Organization has called nonprofessionals "a valuable resource for mental health care." The White House led a push that is directing $15 million a year to train teachers in mental health first aid, which 450,000 people nationwide have taken since 2008. About 1,000 people have gone through a separate program called "emotional CPR."

Part of the rationale is sheer numbers: More than 43 million American adults had some diagnosable mental illness in 2013, according to a federal estimate. Meanwhile, over 97 million Americans live in areas, some in New York City, that the government says have too few mental health professionals.

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