Mental Health First Aid is as important as First Aid and CPR

August 29, 2023

Within our first months of employment at Neighborhood House, we’re all required to take a First Aid and CPR class, and when that certification expires in a few years, we are required to take a refresher. When a client or co-worker injures themselves, or is having a medical emergency, we all know some basic steps to take until help arrives. But when someone is having a mental health or substance use challenge, many of us lack the training and skills to respond in a helpful way.

Last month, I joined 30 other Neighborhood House staff and community members for Mental Health First Aid training, offered by Neighborhood House’s community health team. The Mental Health First Aid Training was developed in Australia in 2001 by Betty Kitchener and Professor Anthony Jorm. It was brought and adapted for the United States in 2008 by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing to extend the concept of CPR first aid to mental health and substance use. This training was developed to train community members to recognize the signs and symptoms that could suggest a potential mental health or substance use challenge, how to listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance, and refer to appropriate supportive services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States.

  • More than 1 in 5 US adults live with a diagnosed mental illness. Many in the United States are not diagnosed due to lack of access, stigma, cost, or other barriers.
  • Over 1 in 5 youth (ages 13-18) either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.
  • About 1 in 25 U.S. adults lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
  • The chart below shows that youth/young adults have the highest rate of depression and anxiety.

According to the CDC, there is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as:

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse (for example, child abuse, sexual assault, witnessing violence, etc.)
  • Experiences related to other ongoing (chronic) medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes
  • Biological factors or chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Having feelings of loneliness or isolation

Unfortunately, mental health stigma (fear, misunderstanding, and negative attitudes) is deeply ingrained in societal norms and cultural beliefs. People with mental health challenges are frequently subjected to stereotypes, such as being labeled as “weak,” “unstable,” or even “dangerous.” These misconceptions not only perpetuate discrimination but also discourage individuals from openly discussing their struggles and seeking treatment. What do you know about mental illness? Test your knowledge here.

At Neighborhood House, we are beginning to have more discussions and recognition about the importance of mental wellness. We formed a Trauma Informed Care team and they are prioritizing staff wellness in their plan; Human Resources is looking for additional resources to support staff wellness also.

With more than 1 in 5 of us are living with a diagnosed mental illness, mental health first aid is an important tool for us to help our community access housing, health, education, and economic opportunity. Thank you to those staff that have already participated in this important training, and thank you to the Neighborhood House Community Health team for training us and our partners. As we work to become more Trauma Informed, we strongly encourage all Neighborhood House staff to participate in an upcoming Mental Health First Aid course. To sign up for Mental Health First Aid training, contact

Janice Deguchi, Executive Director