New Training Program Teaches Intervention Skills to the Public

A mental health emergency can happen to anyone you know or don’t know, and anywhere during your regular daily routine—but are you prepared to handle it? Just like training for life-threatening emergencies involving physical crises, such as CPR classes offered by the fire department, professionals are now offering training courses to the public on how to properly intervene during life-threatening mental health crises.

In California, a nonprofit organization called the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County is now providing a public educational program, “Mental Health First Aid,” which includes an interactive 12-hour course on how to identify mental health risk factors and warning signs of substance abuse problems in others, and how to respond to these situations through management of treatment options. The new public program is funded by the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). The MHSA, otherwise known as California Proposition 63, gained passage in 2004 and supports the state’s Department of Mental Health with funding, staff, training, and resources for county mental health programs. The groundbreaking initiative was the first in several years to commence progress monitoring of county children, at-risk adolescents, adults, seniors, and families that are treated through the Department’s prevention and intervention services. With the new “Mental Health First Aid” program, the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County will begin training participants on a 5-step action plan to effectively help those in need of mental health outreach.

The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County is staffed by certified trainers in mental health first aid who then teach members of the public—including individuals from nonprofit organizations, the public sector, and local businesses—the knowledge to recognize a mental health crisis, the necessary skills needed to intervene, and awareness of appropriate treatment resources like professional help, social groups, and self-help options. As a part of their training, participants are actually run through practice scenarios of mental health crises so that they have the chance to test their intervention skills and understand how to adapt their techniques to real-life situations, whether it be a mental health intervention, drug intervention, or alcohol intervention. Once a participant has successfully completed the training program, he or she will become certified as a Mental Health First Aider and considered prepared to handle mental health crises in their communities. Their certified training ensures that these individuals are prepared to intervene during life-threatening scenarios like overdose from substance use, suicide attempts, or emotional breakdowns and panic attacks, and potentially save the life of a person in serious need.

Usually, someone experiencing a mental health crisis is treated by clinical physicians, police officers, or other emergency personnel; but there are times when these professionals are not the first on the scene of the incident. By learning how to properly respond to these events, any member of the community can become a certified Mental Health First Aider and assist someone with their mental health problem until professional emergency personnel arrive. Not only does the Mental Health First Aid program teach community members how to support one another and save lives, but it also spreads awareness of the prevalence of mental health issues and helps reduces stigmas that surround mental conditions and substance abuse disorders. Instead of turning away from someone with a mental health crisis, everyday citizens are taught to give a helping hand. According to the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County, participants of their training program actually gain a sense of self-worth and knowledge as they become more aware of mental illness and their community’s available mental health resources.

To find out more about the Mental Health First Aid training program, visit the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara’s website at or call (805) 884-8440.