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The National Association of Counties says its new program will help government employees identify when coworkers and others are suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse.
County leaders from around the nation are encouraging local governments to train their employees to administer “mental health first aid” to coworkers and others.
The National Association of Counties’ board of directors passed a resolution at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this week to work with a national group of mental health and addiction counselors to promote the training for county employees.
According to a NACo fact sheet, the training helps county employees recognize signs of substance abuse and mental health challenges, including suicidal thoughts, among coworkers, relatives and members of the public. The training also teaches participants how to have difficult conversations about mental health.
“Mental Health First Aid doesn’t teach you to be a therapist. It equips you to recognize signs of distress and guide a person toward appropriate treatments and other supportive health care. It teaches you how to help someone who is in crisis and how to be a support to someone struggling with mental health or substance use disorders,” according to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, the association working with counties to offer the training.
“It’s important for counties because we interact with the public. We’re like the canary in the cage,” said NACo President Larry Johnson, a DeKalb County, Georgia commissioner who organized a training in his county last week with representatives from various departments, including law enforcement and health care.
The training also will help election workers identify when their coworkers are struggling with stress. “We’ve got so many situations around the elections,” he said. “It gives them the coping skills to help them to mitigate anxious and nervous situations.”
The move comes as public sector workers struggle with mental health issues amid the pandemic and stresses like harassment and threats faced by public health officials as well as election workers during and after the 2020 elections.
“You talk to them about needing help and you’ve got resources to refer them,” Johnson said about the training. “They can help alert us when they see signs that we need to help a person before things go over the top. It’s like first aid or CPR.”
A survey by the MissionSquare Research Institute, a nonprofit that studies government workforce issues, found that about 52% of state and local public sector workers are considering abandoning their jobs for different positions, retiring or leaving the workforce.
Burnout and inadequate pay are two reasons employees pointed to for feeling this way, the survey found.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.