Mental health training added to behavioral health internship bill

Lawmakers gave second-round approval March 6 to a bill intended to increase access to behavioral health services in Nebraska.

LB901, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill, would require the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Education Center to fund five one-year doctoral-level internships within 12 months of the bill’s enactment. The number of internships would increase to 10 within 36 months.

Under the bill, interns would be placed in communities where their presence would improve access to behavioral health services for patients residing in rural and underserved areas of Nebraska.

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz offered an amendment, adopted 26-0, that incorporated provisions of LB931, which she sponsored.

The amendment would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to establish a mental health first aid training program. The program would:
• help the public identify, understand and respond to the signs of mental illness and substance abuse;
• emphasize the need to reduce the stigma of mental illness; and
• assist persons believed to be developing a mental health or substance abuse problem.

The program would be administered through the state’s behavioral health regions and instructors would be certified by a national authority. The department would be required to measure the efficacy of the training program and report to the Legislature annually.

Bolz said mental health first aid is similar to traditional first aid and provides training in early intervention to community members so that they can respond properly in emerging mental health crisis situations. She said individuals in crisis frequently reach out to friends, family, church members and teachers.

“I do believe that just like CPR and other kinds of first aid, this training has the potential to help community members help one another through crises,” she said.

Bolz said the bill would provide $100,000 in annual grants to the state’s behavioral health regions, which would be used to provide certified training to 60 individuals who would in turn train 500 people in the first year.

Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford supported the amendment, saying the training could prove particularly useful for military families. It is not uncommon for a military member to have mental health issues after serving in a combat zone, she said.

Having more people in the community who are able to recognize combat-related mental health issues could diffuse potentially dangerous situations, she said.

“The more we can do on the prevention side … the better off we will be,” Crawford said.

Following adoption of the Bolz amendment, senators advanced LB901 to final reading by voice vote.

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