Ready to save a life?

Mental Health First Aid can make you a hero

Mental Health First Aid is aptly named; modeled after CPR or physical first aid training, students of the curriculum learn specific skills that provide hope, improve recovery outcomes and save lives. Instead of chest compressions or rescue breathing, the skills employed are focused on communication, active listening and connecting a person in crisis with the next step in the continuum of care.

“It’s the bridge between being overwhelmed, a regular person in the moment, and being prepared,” says Mary McEwen, Area Health Education Coordinator for Southeast Alaska, a program of SERRC, and a MHFA trainer.

MHFA is an evidence-based, internationally employed curriculum, created in Australia and adapted for American audiences. There are variations for adults working with adults, adults working with youth, and teens interacting with their peers. The curriculum is easily taught in one day or split up over the course of days or weeks, delivered in person or online, instructor-led or a hybrid model with some of the training self directed.

SERRC, true to its nature as an Education Service Agency, has offered training in school settings for educators, para-educators and staff and has integrated the course into its Behavioral Health Career Connections camps for high school students. The training has also been offered to emergency shelter staff and community organizations.

“I think it’s important. Really important. Because there’s a stigma around people seeking help with mental health symptoms,” says Kate Prussing, one of SERRC’s MHFA trainers. “The more people are familiar with the signs, the symptoms and prevalence, the more likely we are to get people access to services at earlier stages. It’s very significant in improving outcomes for people.”

Considering Alaska’s youth suicide rates and effects on mental health from the COVID-19 pandemic, MHFA’s relevance has only increased since its creation in 2001.

Those receiving training are asked for feedback and report finding it helpful, with “overall great information.”

“I think the information was interesting and informative, especially having clear boundaries about our role as Mental Health First Aid responders,” wrote one MHFA training recipient, adding: “The more comfortable we are, the better …this is very needed and an important skill.”

For schools or other workplaces interested in improving their response to mental health crises or identifying signs early, SERRC has certified instructors on staff and can tailor the training to fit a variety of needs.

Contact Mary McEwen at