THE HEART OF THE MATTER
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

Week: 525.4 Guest: Dr. Bernard Ahrens, Director, Federal Center for Mental Health Services Topic: Center for Mental Health Services Info Network - One Part Host: Steve Girard Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: There's a wealth of information out there for people who believe they may be experiencing a mental health problem, either in themselves or a member of their family. It resides in a part of the federal government headed by Dr. Bernard Ahrens....

AHRENS: I'm a psychiatrist...I've worked in the public arena for some time. I'm now the Director of the Center for Mental Health Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services in the federal government. And we're responsible for trying to advance the nation's work in the area of mental health...both treatment and prevention, trying to make sure that we're providing to our citizens the best of what we know works in mental health treatment.

NEMA: Is the CMHS a part of the National Institutes for Mental Health?

AHRENS: Yes, about four years ago, there was a reorganization in the government, NIMH was returned to its purely research functions and was made part of the NIH proper...and the services and public education, and some of the other aspects of services and treatment were moved into a new agency, the Center for Mental Health Services.

NEMA: How does the agency help the individual, family or community in the areas of mental health?

AHRENS: Well, the Center for Mental Health Services has three major areas of activity...the first and very important is supporting the ongoing services around the country. We have various ways that we distribute money to states and communities...through a block grant, through a program for the homeless, and so forth, that tries to get some money to communities for direct provision of services. In addition to that infrastructure support, we try to demonstrate what works best...we try to move the system forward by doing experimental programs trying to show, "what is the best way to provide services". And then, from the information we gather from those programs, as well as information from research and communities, we try to make that information available...knowledge exchange. That's an area of tremendous growth, especially in the past year or two.

NEMA: So, how do we get into knowledge exchange mode?

AHRENS: We've established a national mental health services knowledge exchange network...KEN...Ken, we sometimes call it. And that's accessible by 800 number...a person could call 1-800-789-CMHS. It's also accessible by computer with a modem...no matter what basic level of connection you have, 1-800-790-CMHS. Or through the Internet, and even on the Internet, its available in a couple of different ways. Our address is Mental Health. org/. There are numerous ways people can get information...general information about what works best, what services are available, information about the latest changes in managed care, or specific references and specific contacts in their communities. We have a database that tries to return people to their communities...one good example might be if someone has someone in their family with a mental illness...they're looking for other family members for support, we refer them back with the information and the phone number to the Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the family organization in their area.

NEMA: Again, the key number for accessing information at the Center for Mental Health Services is 1-800-789-CMHS. We'll talk again with Dr. Ahrens specifically on new information about children's mental health problems on a later program. I'm Steve Girard.