Mental Health First AID


A friend of mine who is a federal judge in the county told me once that his biggest lament in this job is the fact that about 60% of the people he convicts to the criminal justice system suffer from some degree of mental illness which is often undiagnosed.


This week the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a sobering article in the Sunday Focus Section describing the fate of the nearly 300 mentally defendants who file into Cuyahoga County jail each day. The article explains that there are Mental Health services sections in the jail and even mental health courts.  The challenges lie in the area of providing the psychiatric support and most importantly, the medications needed to stabilize patients. 


The Nord Family Foundation has a legacy of providing support to the mentally and emotionally ill members of the community.  Founder Walter Nord served on the Lorain County Mental Health board in the 1940’s and with personal investment leveraged with funding from the State Mental Health board established what is now The Nord Center.


Mental Health First Aid is (MHFA) is a public education program that helps the public identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Its importance is articulated best thy the Arizona Department of Health Services.

 “Nearly 1 million people a year suffer a heart attack – making teaching CPR an important element in public health education. But while 1 million is a big number, it represents less than 1 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, about one in four Americans experience depression, anxiety or other mental illness. That means you’re much more likely to encounter someone having a mental health crisis than someone having a heart attack.”

The MHFA program is offered in the form of a 12-hour course that presents an overview of mental illness and substance use disorders in the U.S. and introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds understanding of their impact, and overviews common treatments. Those who complete the 12-hour course are then certified as Mental Health First Aiders and learn a 5-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer, social, and self-help care. The program is suitable for a variety of audiences including primary care professionals, employers and business leaders, faith communities, school personnel and educators, state police and corrections officers, nursing home staff, mental health authorities, state policymakers, and the general public. 


Suggested by Trustee who had heard about the MHFA our staff has been laying the groundwork for a foundation initiative to bring MHFA to Lorain County. To institutionalize MHFA in Lorain County, we are initiating a Train-the-Trainer option.  One local individual has completed  national instructor training through Mental Health First Aid USA.  This is a five-day training program that results in a three-year certification as a MHFA Instructor, qualified to offer the 12-hour community education course and certify Mental Health First Aiders.  Instructors must commit to provide MHFA training at least three times annually in their community.


The Lorain County Board of Mental Health has committed financial and in-kind resources to assist with the launch of this effort.  

Starting this summer, MHFA courses will be offered in Lorain County, at no cost to Lorain County residents.  The 12-hour course is ideally offered over two consecutive days for a maximum of 25 people at a time.  Each participant is provided with a workbook and a variety of handouts.  . 


A number of suitable training facilities are available in Lorain County. The Lorain County Chapter of the American Red Cross has offered their facility as a community training location, underscoring the intent of MHFA to become as common as the Red Cross’ First Aid training program.


Foundation investment in the pilot is $20,000.  This amount will cover the costs associated with training a local Instructor, then to subsequently offer a total of up to six community trainings over a two-year period for a total of 300 people.  We see this as an important contribution to educating the public on the need to understand mental illness in our communities and respond appropriately.

Many thanks to Senior Program Officer Karen Cook who did most of the research behind this post.