Mary Rae Staton; Ann Lippincott, Mental Health Association board president; and Neil Friedman, Director of the Fellowship Club Recovery Learning Center at the Mental Health Association

The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County is promoting the growth of a Mental Health First Aid instructor certification program in order to increase the availability of mental health treatment.

“Mental Health First Aid gives certified individuals in our community the tools to make a potentially life-saving difference for a person in crisis,” said Annmarie Cameron, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara. “The reason we want to have this training course is so we can have more teachers.”

Although Santa Barbara already has over 300 people certified as mental health first aid responders, Cameron is encouraging the growth of the trainer certification course so that mental health first aid certification can become as popular and widespread as first aid or CPR certification. Through a five day, 40 hour course, ordinary citizens can become certified to instruct others in learning mental health first aid.

“It gives you the skills to be able to help someone rather than feel like you need to walk away,” Cameron added.

James Raydack, a mental health first aid trainer with the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare in Washington, D.C., was on hand to lead the certification program in Santa Barbara this past week. Raydack explained that the program came from Australia a few years ago, and, although it is relatively new, over 2,000 mental health first aid instructors have trained over 10,000 mental health first aiders throughout the U.S.

“There’s absolutely no reason why folks that are learning CPR and first aid shouldn’t also learn mental health first aid,” said Raydack. “Particularly teachers, police officers, and people involved in different health issues.”

Raydack also said that one out of four American adults in any given year will experience some form of mental health problem, and, most of the time, people are not getting the help they need either because they don’t know what’s happening to them or cannot see past the stigmatism attached to mental health issues.

“People who attend this program have seen their own attitudes change and have been more comfortable reaching out to someone as a result,” said Raydack.

According to Raydack, the program encourages mental health first aiders to listen to those who may be affected with mental health issues without judgment, to be reassuring, and to encourage them to seek help without forcing them.

Ann Lippincott, president of the Board of Directors for the Mental Health Association of Santa Barbara, took the training course to become certified as an instructor in order to begin identifying different groups within Santa Barbara that could possibly benefit from mental health first aid services. Lippincott identified resident assistants living in the dorms at UCSB, faculty and staff at UCSB as well as SBCC and Antioch University, along with local police and parks and recreation officials who are likely to encounter people in need of mental health first aid.

“We see — of course — a big need for it in almost every sector of our community,” stated Lippincott. “So we’re going to start with the people who come to us and express the need themselves, and hope the enthusiasm will grow.”


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