Mental Health First Aid, MHFA, National Council for Behavioral Health, Aetna, Connecticut, police officers

Grant helps train Connecticut police officers in Mental Health First Aid

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A $40,000 grant by the Aetna Foundation will pay the full cost for 30 police officers in Connecticut to get trained in a customized Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course.

The MHFA instructor training course was offered as a collaboration between the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association’s Police Officer Wellness Committee, the Aetna Foundation and Aetna Behavioral Health.

“Our collaboration with the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and National Council for Behavioral Health fits with Aetna Behavioral Health’s mission to eliminate stigma and give people real tools to respond to mental health issues,” said Hyong Un, M.D., chief psychiatric officer of Aetna Behavioral Health. “We are excited about the collaboration to increase the focus on the well-being of law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

Joe Coffey, retired police captain of Warwick, Rhode Island, Police Department, teaches Mental Health First Aid to a class of Connecticut police officers at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, Connecticut. | Eric Vo Joe Coffey, retired police captain of Warwick, Rhode Island, Police Department, teaches Mental Health First Aid to a class of Connecticut police officers at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, Connecticut. | Eric Vo

MHFA, which is the National Council for Behavioral Health’s flagship program, teaches people how to recognize and respond to a developing mental health problem or crisis in others and themselves.

“Mental Health First Aid teaches officers to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and self-help strategies,” said Bryan Gibb, director of public education for the National Council for Behavioral Health. “Mental Health First Aid does not replace an officer’s tactical training, but it is another tool that can increase safety and get help for those who may need it.”

Eric Weaver, a retired sergeant with the New York Rochester Police Department, teaches Mental Health First Aid to a class of Connecticut police officers at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, Connecticut. | Eric Vo Eric Weaver, a retired sergeant with the Rochester, New York Police Department, teaches Mental Health First Aid to a class of Connecticut police officers at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, Connecticut. | Eric Vo

Officers representing police departments around the state attended the weeklong training, which was held at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden from May 1 through May 5. Upon completion, the officers will be certified MHFA instructors and committed to teaching the eight-hour course to police officers at least three times a year. The goal is to train every police officer in Connecticut in MHFA.

Joe Coffey, retired police captain of Warwick, Rhode Island, Police Department, leads an exercise during a Mental Health First Aid instructor training course at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, Connecticut. | Eric Vo Joe Coffey, retired police captain of Warwick, Rhode Island, Police Department, leads an exercise during a Mental Health First Aid instructor training course at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, Connecticut. | Eric Vo

Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara, who is also the chairman of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association Wellness Committee, said there was a push to focus on the mental health of police officers after the Sandy Hook school shooting.

“It’s important to not only be comfortable talking about mental health, but to also focus on the health and wellness of police officers,” MacNamara said. “By embracing Mental Health First Aid training and working with Aetna, we’ll all be able to talk the same language when it comes to mental wellness.”

MacNamara, who has been in law enforcement since 1988, knows firsthand how much the job can wear on a person. In 2002, he successfully negotiated the release of 27 students and a professor at Fairfield University.

“I went home and I lost it. I was so emotional,” MacNamara said, adding the MHFA training will change the culture of police officers talking about their thoughts and feelings. “What we’re doing from the state level is supporting and helping first responders.”

Connecticut police officers participate in a group exercise during a Mental Health First Aid training course at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, Connecticut. | Eric Vo Connecticut police officers participate in a group exercise during a Mental Health First Aid training course at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, Connecticut. | Eric Vo

Aetna has a long partnership with the National Council for Behavioral Health. In 2013, 30 Aetna employees were trained in MHFA in the wake of Sandy Hook. As of April 18, 2017, Aetna has  trained 2,868 people since Aetna Behavioral Health sponsored the instructor training.

Aetna Media Contact
Ethan Slavin
860-273-6095
SlavinE@aetna.com