Mental Health First Aid: Increasing Knowledge and Awareness

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by Commissioner Lynn Beshear, Alabama Department of Mental Health


Prevention and early intervention are essential to changing the way we support those with mental health or substance use disorders. One way to proactively assist those in need is obtaining training in Mental Health First Aid.  Just as CPR helps one learn the skills to save an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid provides the know-how to assist someone experiencing a mental health or substance use-related crisis. The Alabama Department of Mental Health supports the growth of those trained in Mental Health First Aid.

What Is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based, peer-reviewed program designed to help grow knowledge of signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental illness and addictions. The training is a great refresher for psychiatric nurse training. Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that gives you the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.

We want to help blanket the state with “first aiders” who recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental or substance crisis. You may notice someone who exhibits symptoms while sitting in the waiting room or during an appointment. Mental Health First Aid helps to increase confidence in, and the likelihood to help an individual in distress.

Becoming A Mental Health First Aid Instructor

Alabama has over 90 trained and nationally-certified instructors statewide teaching the curriculum. In just one day, you can learn the skills to ensure someone gets the help they need and perhaps, save a life. Encouragement and endorsement of Mental Health First Aid by nurses and medical staff is essential to help others understand its importance.

Mental Health First Aid is intended for all people and organizations that make up a community. The course is a benefit to:

  • Nurses and staff at doctor or dental offices, hospitals, and nursing homes
  • Professionals who regularly interact with citizens (such as police officers, human resource directors, and primary care workers)
  • School and College faculty and staff
  • Houses of faith and their communities
  • Friends and family of individuals with mental illness

Trainees are taught how to apply the evidence-based five step action plan in a variety of situations such as helping someone through a panic attack, engaging with someone who may be suicidal, or assisting an individual who has overdosed.

Find out more and find links to find a course and obtain training or become an instructor on the Alabama Department of Mental Health’s website at

Please consider taking a Mental Health First Aid course so we can all be part of the proactive effort to reduce stigma around mental illness and addiction, increase knowledge and understanding, and help those in need.