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Rep. Tarr Introduces Mental Health First Aid Legislation

Many know how to properly respond to a heart attack, only a few know how to respond to someone having a mental or emotional crisis

JUNEAU – Today, Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) proposed legislation (HB355) to authorize the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to administer a Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training program and accompanying grants. Youth Mental Health First Aid training teaches trainees to detect mental illnesses and substance abuse issues and how to respond effectively to them. 

“Though many of us know how to properly respond to a heart attack, only a few of us know what to do when confronted with someone having mental or emotional crises,” says Tarr.  “Creating an environment where people know how to properly respond to these situations is a small step towards treating Alaska’s problems with suicide, addiction, and abuse.”

MHFA was introduced to the United States from Australia in 2008.  Since then, over 50,000 state and municipal employees, clergy members, police officers, and citizens have been trained in 47 states and the District of Columbia.  This training is considered a cost saving and community building measure because citizens are more likely in their lifetime to see a person having a panic attack than someone having a heart attack.

Alaska has the highest suicide rate per capita in the country, at almost twice the national rate.  Alaska Native men between the ages of 15-24 have the highest rate of suicide among all demographics in the United States, and the rate of suicide for all Alaska youth in this age group was nearly twice as high as the rate for adults over 25.  Compounding this problem, youth exposed to suicide or suicidal behaviors are more likely to attempt suicide.

“Ninety percent of suicide victims have a diagnosable, treatable mental or substance abuse disorder.  If community members can recognize the signs of these disorders and provide initial aid, we can hopefully prevent some of these tragedies,” said Tarr.

HB355 was referred to the House Health and Social Services and House Finance committees.

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