Free mental health first aid saves lives in more ways than one

Free mental health first aid saves lives in more ways than one

Someone in a subway car clutches their chest and falls to the ground, struggling to breathe. Another person begins choking on their dinner and needs CPR. An ambulance is on its way, but some people know how to help the person in peril and perform CPR or keep the person calm until help arrives.

Not everyone receives training for emergency first aid such as CPR, but many have the knowledge and ability to help. Sadly, the same cannot be said regarding first aid for mental health issues. Many would not know what to do if someone was having a mental health crisis on the subway beyond calling the police. This is why the Mental Health Association of New York State –MHANYS—has obtained a grant to offer the first aid training for free.

Imagine the scenario, a stranger on the subway mumbling under their breath and frequently looking from left to right. Maybe a neighbor sounds disturbed in their apartment and you notice alarming sounds and shouting — they believe the government is listening to their thoughts and are losing control. In San Francisco, California in 2013 a man began to pace back and forth, freaking out above ground. He then proceeded to strip off his clothes and run below ground to the subway, assaulting passengers and causing problems. A video recording went viral and the man was put in for mental evaluation. If people had known what to do before the event escalated, the situation could have been avoided. Basic training can help to spot the signs of a mental crisis and keep the person non-threatening until help arrives.

The program

Awarded by the state, this grant allows MHANYS to hold training classes for free. They will offer a 12-hour mental health first aid training course, focusing on the action needed for someone with a mental condition or crisis. It is difficult to understand what is going on with someone who is having a mental crisis. Unlike with the ABC’s of CPR, where people know to check the airways, breathing and circulation, many are unsure of what to do for a mental crisis.

This training can help people deal with a tense and uncomfortable situation, when a person is having a mental crisis. As writes, this training, “Builds mental health literacy; helping the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.” There is a stigma with mental illness that people tend to avoid. Less people want to speak about and understand the effects of schizophrenia or the symptoms of major bipolar mood swings.

The idea something painful is happening to an individual mentally and not being aware of how to help is frightening. John Richter, director of Public Policy for MHANYS said, “This can help demystify some of that by talking about mental health the same way we talk about physical illness.” Richter is referring to the stigma of mental health and hopes this training will break down the barriers between healthy and mentally ill individuals.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness — NAMI — states around 61.5 million Americans experience a mental illness each year. Many of these illnesses are treatable, yet people may still feel ostracized because of an illness or disorder. The training covered in this program will certify an individual for three years.

What the program will do

The program offers mental health first aid training courses for adults and students. The adult course will focus on teaching the proper first aid emergency care and the student course will focus on intervention and how to help friends with an illness. The four main points the MHANYS website, that will be the main focus of the training are:

  • Gaining knowledge of the warning signs and risks for a variety of mental health disorders
  • Covering a plan consisting of five steps including the skills, resources and knowledge to understand the situation and helping the individual in crisis with the appropriate interventions
  • Understanding that mental illnesses are becoming more common in the U.S. and the need to decrease the stigma
  • Education of the available treatment programs, support groups and aid available to those with mental illness


This is an excellent opportunity to become equipped with skills and knowledge to help those with a mental illness and save bystanders who could get caught in the middle of a traumatizing episode. If you or a loved on exhibit signs or symptoms of a mental illness and have interest in treatment, please call us at 855-559-3923.