At the Quality Institute, several of our staff members are trained trainers in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), which is sometimes dubbed “CPR for mental health.” We’ve been training people throughout the state to recognize and help those experiencing a mental health crisis. Attendees range from police and fire officials to teachers, school staff, and local volunteers.
Through our trainings as well as our work in maternal infant health, and after reading the recently published NJ Maternal Mortality Report, we were motivated to customize a MHFA training for perinatal community health workers, who support pregnant people during the prenatal, delivery, and postpartum period. We are grateful to The Health Care Foundation of New Jersey, which shared our vision and is now supporting our efforts to provide these trainings and to create and pilot the first-in-the-nation customized MHFA scenarios for perinatal community health workers.
The need is urgent. The NJ Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that the leading underlying cause of pregnancy-associated deaths is mental health conditions. Leading contributing factors include mental health complications and lack of care coordination, provider-patient knowledge, and a lack of standardized policies and procedures. The Committee also determined that nearly all these deaths were preventable. That is why it is so critical to provide MHFA training to the community health workers and others who are in closest contact and who are trusted by the pregnant person. With this training, they’ll be better equipped to recognize signs of mental health distress and steer their clients to the help they need.
We launched the work last fall, partnering with the Mental Health Association for New Jersey and providing training for employees or affiliates of the Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern NJ; Greater Newark Health Care Coalition; and HealthConnect One, which runs a doula learning collaborative in New Jersey. Since then, we’ve provided this evidenced-based training to over 70 nurses, doulas, family support workers, childbirth educators, and community health workers — all working with pregnant people.
The eight-hour training uses video, interactive group and individual activities, and role playing. To develop the maternity scenarios, the Quality Institute, in partnership with The Mental Health Association of New Jersey, brought together experts, direct providers of care, and individuals with lived experience to develop six scenarios for use in the training. The National Council for Mental Wellbeing, the organization that created MHFA, approved our maternity scenarios, which are based on real-life examples that doulas and others face regularly. So far, we’ve received great feedback on the trainings:
- 96 percent of participants reported an increased understanding of mental health and stigma.
- 95 percent of participants reported an increased awareness of how to support someone experiencing mental health symptoms.
- 86 percent of participants reported an increased awareness of prevention and support resources to address mental health conditions.
- 96 percent of participants reported feeling confident in being able to apply the mental health action plan to assist someone experiencing mental health symptoms.
After completing the training, participants shared how empowered and better prepared they felt. The following are some examples of feedback:
- “I feel educated and informed about different mental health issues and how to respond and help to the best of my ability.”
- “I learned the language you use surrounding people experiencing a mental health crisis matters.”
- “I was not prepared before taking the training. Now, I feel confident. I know what words to use and how to approach them.”
Long after the training, participants continue to express how valuable the training has been to them and those they serve, as well as to their family, friends, and colleagues. We will continue collecting data three to six months after training to gage its effectiveness and value.
Here’s one story we heard from a community health worker: “I had a client who had a miscarriage. She felt all hope was lost. She just lost her baby. She felt like she contributed to the loss of the baby. She was still using (drugs). That was a very tough case for me. I had to consult my supervisor. I had to use empathy to really talk to her. I used ALGEE (Assess risk, Listen nonjudgmentally, Give reassurance, Encourage appropriate professional help, and Encourage self-help and other support strategies) to support the person and move them from one point to another point.”
The next Mental Health First Aid training is on June 22. If you work with community health workers serving pregnant people who may be interested in the training, contact Adelisa Perez-Hudgins, our Director of Quality, at firstname.lastname@example.org.