CCRMental Health First Aid Training May Make Our Community Happier and Healthier

Ferd & Gladys Alpert Jewish Family Service (Alpert JFS) wants to make mental health education as common as CPR training! To this end, they are taking the lead in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to help destigmatize mental illness and debunk myths surrounding mental illness. MHFA is appropriate for anyone interested in making a positive contribution to our community, particularly lawyers. Many J.D.s struggle with alcohol consumption, stress, depression and/or anxiety, as well as demanding work schedules and stressful environments that often create work-life challenges.  MHFA training provides the tools necessary to approach clients, colleagues, staff, family members and friends struggling with mental health issues. 

The evidence-based training course of national renown – on the Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) – teaches participants the skills to help people struggling with mental health issues, or those experiencing a mental health crisis. It came to our community in 2015, through the efforts of Alpert JFS Clinical Director Elaine Rotenberg, Ph. D. and Director of Community Outreach/Mental Health First Aid Cindy Wides. Together, they educated the community about the benefits of training, and coordinated the efforts of four non-profit organizations to each allow a staff member to be trained nationally to teach MHFA locally. Thus, the grassroots Mental Health First Aid Coalition of Palm Beach County came to fruition!  

The coalition has experienced impressive growth in the past six years; it now includes 16 non-profit agencies, the School District of Palm Beach County, and more than 85 nationally certified instructors. To date, more than 6,400 people received training to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

MHFA builds the mental health literacy of participants through a five-step action plan: 

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm;
  • Listen without judgment;
  • Give reassurance and information;
  • Encourage appropriate professional help;
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

“Many people with mental illness are reluctant to seek help or know where to turn for care, while their friends and family members may struggle to know when and how to help,” said Dr. Rotenberg. “Mental Health First Aid teaches people how to begin a conversation with someone who appears to be facing a mental health or substance abuse use issue and, most importantly, in a non-judgmental way provide support and encouragement so they can get the assistance they need.”

MHFA classes went virtual with the restrictions of COVID-19, with recent participants from Bethesda Nursing School, AmeriCorps Volunteers, Career Source of Palm Beach County, Keiser University, The Breakers Hotel, Palm Beach County Bar Association, and Alpert JFS staff and supporters completing the program online. They join a network of more than two million individuals nationally who have made the commitment to be the difference in the lives of friends, family, neighbors, business associates and the public. 

“I am proud to say that Alpert JFS is the hub for MHFA training in Palm Beach County, and delighted to share that I have personally taught more than 130 classes with approximately 3,700 participants,” said Wides. “Among the skills taught to participants are how to be a reassuring presence, rather than giving advice, which allows the person having a challenge to trust the person offering guidance.”