Staff who work in New York City nursing homes have reported concerns about the increasing numbers of residents with diagnoses of mental illness being admitted for care and not receiving the professional help that they need. Admissions of people with mental illness, particularly depression, have been steadily increasing over the past two decades, overtaking admissions for dementia only. One reason for this increase is the growth of short-stay, post-acute placements.


According to a national survey, only about half of nursing facilities provided regular mental health services in 2004. Nursing home staff may be inadequately trained in mental illness and, as research suggests, may hold stigmatizing beliefs about individuals with behavioral health disorders. Working with mentally ill people without the proper training may also lead to stress, injuries to staff and residents and job dissatisfaction.


In response to this problem, two LMP consultants were recently certified as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) trainers. MHFA is an eight-hour, evidence-based National Council for Behavioral Health course that teaches participants to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. One of the certified LMP consultants, Wanda Johnson, explained that MHFA training would teach nursing home staff “how to have better conversations with individuals and how to reach out to appropriate people to get help” for distressed individuals. Johnson noted that it is essential that these conversations be free of stigma and judgment, an issue that is thoroughly addressed during the training.


Topics covered in the MHFA training include depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis and substance abuse disorders. Importantly, the training also includes a five-step process for effectively intervening in a mental health crisis. Its goal is to prepare staff to respond to behavioral health crises responded in the same way that one would respond to a heart attack: with concern, urgency and skill.


MHFA has received a great deal of attention recently on a local and national level. Both First Lady Michelle Obama and New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, are certified Mental Health First Aiders, and MHFA is an integral component of the city’s mental health initiative McCray spearheads, Thrive NYC.

Share This