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Politics

Begich Sponsors Mental Health First Aid Bill

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Senator Mark Begich
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Mental health is the focus of a new bill introduced by U.S. Senator Mark Begich, specifically, mental health first aid.  KDLG’s Chase Cavanaugh has more.

For those with a mental illness, it can be difficult to navigate everyday life.  But what can be just as difficult is assisting a mentally ill individual when they become agitated or violent.  That is a prime motivation behind US Senator Mark Begich’s sponsorship of the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013.  According to Begich, the bill will provide funding for a variety of individuals to take the Mental Health First Aid program, which has been taught to 180,000 people nationwide.  

“It’s a piece of legislation that improves training and aid in training teachers, educators, public safety officers, on how to deal with individuals who might have a mental illness that they find are increasing in activity or are potentially becoming violent in their workplace, and this gives them the skills to bring that person down rather than turning into a hostile environment or a situation that may create a problem.”

Begich says with all of Alaska’s rural villages, it can be difficult for individuals to get access to mental health care.  He says by having people in the community take the course, particularly educators and police officers, they’ll be able to recognize the warning signs of an outburst and help affected individuals get the care they need.  Begich adds that they’ve also been able to secure funding for the program.

“I think in a lot of ways, this bill is something we have heard from a lot of mental health providers, educators, public safety officers, who really see this as an important tool they need in their toolbox. Now, saying that, as we’re working through the legislation, we’ve been able to get funding the last two years of $15 million through the appropriations committee that I sit on to help fund this project as we’re waiting for the bill to pass.”

Democratic Senator Begich is a lead sponsor of the Mental Health Care First Aid Act, and is being supported by Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte (ey-aht) of New Hampshire.  In the House, the bill is being supported by Kansas Republican Lynn Jenkins, and Arizona Democrat Ron Barber.  Additional information on the program can be found at mentalhealthfirstaid.org.