A new grant allows Denver to train its employees to spot people with mental health issues. They call it “mental health first aid.”
In the most extreme circumstances, the city hopes that this will help prevent shootings and other serious crimes.
Don Mares, executive director of Denver’s Department of Human Services, explained how the project will work.
Why does the city think it can help with mental health?
"So many city employees touch the general population and could play a role in spotting issues and pointing people in the right direction. We solicited the cooperation and involvement of the Denver Public Libraries, of Parks and Recreation -- what you might consider the not usual suspects.
"[People who] could be trained enough to say, at the rec center, you know hey Mr. Smith, it appears that you're having some issues. It's kinda like CPR -- do that kind of intervention that would then maybe point Mr. Smith the right direction to get some needed help."
Wouldn't that require a lot of training?
"Surprisingly, the work around spotting mental health issues is probably in some ways akin to and maybe even easier than what someone trained in CPR needs to do to keep someone alive.
"It's a matter of having a core knowledge what kind of sort of behavior people will exhibit, what kind of words they will use. And again, we're not turning these people into mental health providers, just like you don't turn CPR trained individuals into physicians. What we do is try to train folks what to spot and where to point people."
Are you also looking to educate the public in this area of how to help someone?
"Well, the whole movement around mental health first aid is really a national movement. So when you train a group and it's usually you do these mental health first aid trainings 20 people, let's say in a room. So if we can get 10 trainers or 30 trainers actually in the city to do 2 or 3 trainings of 20 ppl each, all of the sudden what we've done is educate a population of people about what mental health is and what it isn't, And that it's not the bogey man that people sometimes think that it is. That too often it's defined by people who may have mental health challenges and go do horrible things when that's the great exception to the rule.
The terminology "mental health first aid" is quite catchy:
"These days especially, you need to get people's attention, you need to get them excited. So yes, mental health first aid is something that people perk their ears up [tp] and they wonder what it is. Even talking about it gives you a chance to get on your soapbox and talk about mental health. I think virtually everyone has had some connection with this issue, whether it's self or family member. So you're not educating folks from scratch."
Jo Ann is a news host on CPR News. She joined Colorado Public Radio in 2015, and has three decades of public radio experience, including hosting "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Edition" at WNYC, WHYY, KPBS and Wisconsin Public Radio.