Ask anyone on the street if they could recognize the signs of a heart attack and most would likely answer yes.Many of those same people would not hesitate to someow help the person in distress. Now, ask those same people if they could recognize the signs of someone suffering from an mental illness crisis and you would probably receive a blank stare and less inclination to become involved.

Since the inception of CPR training in the early 1970's over 14 million individuals have been trained nationally and over 71,000 across Nebraska. In 2006 the National Council for Behavioral Health alsong with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Missouri Department of Mental Health launced the Mental Health First Aid  training program. To date over 500,000 individuals received training nationwide with over 2,800 in Nebraska. But in a nation of more than 318 million, 550,000 is not enough; especially in light of the fact that 1 in 4 individuals will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime. In January the National Council for Behavioral Health launched the Be 1 in a Million Campaign-a national effort to train one million people in Mental Health First Aid.

May is Mental Health month so what better time to highlight this campaign and focus on educating Americans about mental illness and addictions. While progress has been made in the area of treatments far too many people are still reluctant to seek help because they fear discrimination or ridicule; even worse it may be beyond reach because of cost. Well intentioned family and friends will encourage loved ones to "count your blessings" or "pull yourself up by your bootstraps". Mental illness cannot be "willed" away any more than diabetes or a heart attack.

In Nebraska over 62,000 individuals suffer from a serious mental illness and 32,000 children face a behavioral health disorder. We also know that people with a mental illness and substance use disorders are far more likely to have co-occurring conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes and tend to die 25 years earlier than the general population.

These are not just numbers; they represent someone's mother, father, son or daughter. With the right diagnosis and treatment just as with any physical disease, these individuals can lead happy and productive lives.

First aid training for physical injuries or illness is intended to provide help untill professional medical treatment can be obtained. Mental Health First Aid has that same goal; to recognize symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial support and then guide the person to appropriate professiona help. Those trained in CPR are taught to "Check, Call and Care". For Mental Health First Aid the training is built around an action called ALGEE - Assess for risk of suicide or harm, Listen non-judgementally, Give reassurance, Encourage appropriate professional help and Encourage self-help and other means of support. This training is also reducing the stigma attached to mental illness which prevents people from seeking neccessary help.

Throughout Mental Health Month we can appreciate the incredible strides made in promoting understanding, increasing opportunities for treatment and improving the lives of people living with mental illness and substance use disorders. This must be a time where we acknowledge that there is still more we can do to improve our system of care. It's up to each of us to "be the change we want to see in the world". Be 1 in a Million! For more information go to: