A Healthier Wisconsin

"10,000 Strong": MHFA Training for Health Workforce Across Wisconsin to Address Resiliency and Stigma

Teaching health workers how to respond to mental health crises

Full Project Name:"10,000 Strong": MHFA Training for Health Workforce Across Wisconsin to Address Resiliency & StigmaPrincipal Investigator:Himanshu Agrawal, MD, DF-APA, Psychiatry and Behavioral MedicineCo-Investigator:Deepa Pawar, MD, MPH, Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine; Kevin Bozymski, PharmD, BCPS, BCPP, School of PharmacyAward Amount:$197,400
Award Date
Project Duration:24 months

Project Description Narrative:

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, with suicide being the second leading cause of death in people aged 10-34. Wisconsin's suicide rate has trended higher than the national average for suicide, increasing by 40% from 2000 to 2017 and ranking higher than all of its neighboring states' rates in the Midwest.

While having a depressed mood was associated with at least 57% of suicide deaths in Wisconsin, at least half of cases also had a reported mental health issue (not limited to major depressive disorder) and/or had a history of treatment for mental health or substance use. Despite these alarming statistics, many current and future healthcare workers feel unprepared to assist individuals experiencing mental health crises.

Additionally, Wisconsin is facing a notable shortage of psychiatry services. A 2018 report found that Wisconsin has roughly 1.5 psychiatrists for every 10,000 residents, with 43% of counties having less than one psychiatrist per 30,000 residents—the Mental Health Professional Shortage Area federal threshold. This workforce shortage has led to 49% of Wisconsin residents with mental illness not receiving care.

Because of these shortages, it is important that health care workers, irrespective of specialty area, can recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health crises, approach a conversation about mental health concerns nonjudgmentally and with reassurance, and provide available resources until someone can connect with a psychiatry professional. Initially developed for community members outside of health care, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) serves as a foundational framework for any health care worker participating in this project.

MHFA teaches participants how to recognize, assess, and respond to mental health crises (e.g., suicidal ideations, panic attacks, acute psychosis, substance overdose/withdrawal) and non-crisis mental health issues that still warrant a response. It has been successfully applied to training health care professionals and trainees and has been shown to reduce stigma and bolster resiliency. Building upon successful pilot projects, this initiative will expand virtual MHFA to current and future healthcare professionals at all three Medical College of Wisconsin campuses and their identified interprofessional partners, measuring its impact on mental health stigma and assisting interested individuals in becoming certified MHFA instructors. Initial project data will provide a foundation for sustainability and subsequent efforts to achieve the project team's long-term vision of training at least 10,000 individuals in MHFA by 2030 in the diverse communities that the healthcare workforce of MCW and its collaborating partners serve.

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