Mental Health First Aid: Be the One to Make a Difference

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If your coworker was having a heart attack, you would likely recognize the symptoms and know what to do, especially if you had taken a First Aid or CPR class. Would you know what to do if they were facing depression or having a panic attack? Would you know what signs to look for? That’s what Mental Health First Aid Training (MHFA) is meant for, to help individuals from the community become familiar with the early signs of a mental health crisis, including substance abuse, and know how best to react. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, “the training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis.”

Those that have completed the one day, 8-hour Mental Health First Aid Training come away with a better awareness of mental health and a deeper understanding of the daily challenges people living with mental illness are facing. Participants learn how to listen without judgement, become familiar with local mental health resources and understand evidence-based self-help strategies. At the end of the training participants receive a certification that is valid for three years.

“Education allows us to better understand each and everyone’s challenges, even if we can’t empathize with everyone’s situation because we have not gone through it. It makes you more alert about the challenges and difficulties that everyone goes through,” shares Bouakham Rosetti, Program Manager for Care Compass Network (CCN) Projects 3ai, Behavioral Health and Primary Care Integration, and 4aiii, Strengthening Mental Health & Substance Use Infrastructure. Mental Health First Aid brings these challenges to light for those taking the course and equips staff with the skillset to be able to respond appropriately and timely.

Under CCN Projects 3ai and 4aiii, behavioral health goals have been set forth to strengthen and support healthcare providers and community professionals as they are the first line of defense in the early identification, intervention and referral to treatment for behavior health disorders. These projects require the organizations involved to conduct evidence-based screenings such as PHQ2, PHQ9 and substance use screens. Support through education such as the Mental Health First Aid training, Motivational Interviewing, and SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) is provided in order for these screenings to be effective.

Care Compass Network has contracted with the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier (MHAST) to provide the Mental Health First Aid trainings, offering them to all CCN contracted partners at no cost. Nearly 100 individuals have participated in the trainings representing 34 Partner Organizations. Participants in the training come from various backgrounds. “We find it’s all across the board – there’s clinical staff, support staff, community-based organizations, and some people who just want to know more,” says Rosetti.

Tiffany Mooney, Health Home Care Manager for Fairview Recovery Services, Inc. took the course in April of 2018. “The training was one of the best I have taken,” she recalls. “Mental Health issues are on the rise, it’s so important that people understand the warning signs. Suicide rates are increasing, it’s an epidemic and those of us in the Human Services and Social Work fields really benefit from this training.”

Mooney recalls that the trainers, through sharing their own stories, created a space that brought participants out of their comfort zone and allowed them to open up. “Every person had experience with it, not just at work but in everyday life.” This understanding made her realize that the training is not just applicable to those in the health field but universal and can be of help to anyone.

The Mental Health First Aid training gave Mooney an increased sensitivity to people who are struggling with mental health and taught her to keep listening rather than trying to interject right away with solutions. “It gave me perspective,” she says “Sometimes people need to keep talking. It helped me look for the signals people use and how to read body language.”

Mooney puts the training into practice when working with clients who could benefit from talking with someone about their mental health. As she listens to them she gives them gentle reminders that there are resources in the community that can be used. “I keep giving them the information they can use until they are ready,” she says.

During the month of September, CCN is sending 5 representatives to become Mental Health First Aid trainers specifically for first responders in the community. Officers are often the first ones present when a person is suffering from a mental health crisis. “Equipping officers with this skill set and an awareness of mental health and substance use disorders is extremely beneficial. You are giving people the education, the knowledge to make better informed decisions in their field,” says Rosetti.

For the most current listings of trainings and workshops across our 9-county region, please visit are calendar of upcoming events.