Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has started work on a
plan to help the public recognize symptoms of mental health problems and learn
how to approach and assist affected individuals.
The plan is based on an Australian program called Mental Health First Aid,
developed by Betty Kitchener, M.Nurs., and Anthony Jorm, M.Psychol., Ph.D.,
D.Sc., now of Orygen Youth Health, affiliated with the Department of
Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne. In Australia the two have taught
members of the public, trained professionals for the program, and published
several studies of outcomes, including at least one randomized, controlled
trial (Psychiatric News, May 16, 2003).
"Mental Health First Aid is like a CPR course, a population-based
intervention to help the public recognize the symptoms of mental illness and
get people into treatment while reducing stigma," Daryl Plevy, J.D.,
project director for Maryland's mental health transformation grant program,
told Psychiatric News.
Kitchener and Jorm found that few Australians have the skills to support
persons with mental health problems. Their 12-hour course "teaches the
symptoms, causes, and evidenced-based treatments for the common mental health
problems of depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis, and substance use
disorder," they explain on their program Web site. They address crisis
situations arising from mental health problems but emphasize that early
recognition, intervention, and support may head off such crises.
The two have trained over 450 instructors in Australia, many in rural
areas, where mental health services are in as short a supply as they are in
the United States.
The first aid program came separately to the attention of John Colmers,
M.P.H., and Brian Hepburn, M.D. After incoming Gov. Martin O'Malley named
Colmers secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in
January 2007, and Hepburn became executive director of the state's Mental
Hygiene Administration, the two decided to take a closer look at the
Early in January, Kitchener and Jorm came to Maryland and presented
elements of the general and the training versions of their program to
representatives of local mental health governing authorities and chapter
representatives of the Mental Health Association of Maryland, said Plevy. The
goal was to evaluate the program's applicability for an American setting.
Evaluators from Maryland and Missouri are studying whether the Australian data
are comparable to U.S. findings. They must also convert referral information
and some terminology from Australian usage to American English.
That phase of the conversion is nearly complete, and the evaluators will
next move on to certification issues, said Plevy. So far, Kitchener and Jorm
have trained and certified trainers, but any expansion in this country will
depend on deciding who will be trained, what they need to know, how to
maintain the quality of training, and how to update the knowledge of course
If all goes well, the combined Maryland/Missouri evaluation will be
submitted to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for
distribution in this country.
"It's too early to predict when a final version will be ready, but
the program has enormous potential," said Plevy.
Details of the Australian Mental Health First Aid program are posted