Mental Health First Aid Training Equips First Responders with Tools to Handle Behavioral Health Issues

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First responders who are certified in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) are better equipped to handle crisis situations they encounter when in the field. This nationally recognized, evidence-based training is put out by the National Council of Behavioral Health. This course teaches first responders how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders, promoting awareness and reducing stigma associated with them.

“It helps the first responder, who is there with a person experiencing these signs and symptoms, recognize what is happening and get the person connected with the help they need,” says Lauren Greco, Project Manager, Care Compass Network.

The training also encompasses dual recovery, which is co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health and Director of Community Services for Tompkins County mental Health, Sharon MacDougall, whose staff is part of the regional team helping to offer the training says, “it’s not just about mental health, it’s also sensitive to substance use issues. You can’t always separate those when both things are affecting someone, so you have to deal with both at the same time. This training really helps to cover that, which is so important in this key moment, with all the opiate use that has been happening.”

MHFA training is an 8-hour course that can be administered in one day or broken down into multiple, smaller sessions, depending on the needs of an organization. For example, the Binghamton Firefighters chose to have sixteen 4-hour sessions. This allows flexibility and options for scheduling purposes. At the end of the course, trainees receive a certification that is good for 3 years.

The training gives the first responders an action plan when encountering symptoms of mental health issues. Specifically, it covers depression, suicide risk, anxiety, panic attacks, psychosis and illnesses associated with psychosis and substance use as well as officer/ fire/ EMS wellness and PTSD. “We try to train them to look outward at the people they are responding to but also inward at their own team. This way they have a strategy if someone within their organization might be struggling and need help, as well,” Greco says. This is extremely important as, according to an article by USA Today, first responders who took their own lives outnumbered all line-of-duty deaths in 2017.

Care Compass Network began offering MHFA courses in January 2019 and as of April, 115 first responders have been certified. CCN is currently offering Mental Health First Aid training to first responder organizations at no cost. If you are interested in learning more about how you can sign up for this training for your organization, please see our training flyer for additional information.