In 2022, Anna Maria College received over $1 million in federal funding to offer Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to Public Safety Professionals. Secured by United States Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, the goal is to increase the number of instructors who are trained in MHFA in the public safety sectors. Since receiving federal support, Anna Maria College has reached out to the community to offer training to help first responders and public safety professionals recognize the signs of someone in mental distress and provide them with the tools needed to help.
Clear Path for Veterans New England, a Devens veterans nonprofit, is just the latest example of how MHFA is making an impact on local communities and benefiting the greater good. MHFA is a nationally recognized training program created by the National Council on Mental Wellbeing.
John Pratico, assistant professor of psychology and Dean of Behavioral and Mental Health programs at Anna Maria along with Lisa Williams, assistant professor of practice and field coordinator for the Psychology department, are both certified MHFA instructors. This means that they teach participants the skills needed to accurately observe and assist an individual suffering from mental distress. Meanwhile, those interested in becoming actual MHFA instructors must undergo a certification process. Anna Maria also provides MHFA training to its Residence Life staff annually.
On August 9th Pratico and Williams hosted an MHFA training for the staff and veteran population at Clear Path, followed by a youth-focused training conducted by Williams on August 16th. The Clear Path training was funded through a Reliant Foundation grant to Anna Maria with a goal of improving the health and well-being of individuals in Central Massachusetts.
The idea for reaching out to Clear Path began when a friend recommended the nonprofit to Williams. Throughout her career, Williams has demonstrated a great respect for the military, even writing her graduate thesis about PTSD. She has always been interested in finding healthier ways that those in the armed services can transition back to civilian life.
“It is not that they don’t have support, but most of them don’t even know the resources that are out there which is why I wanted to get this [MHFA] out in the community,” she said about the obstacles veterans face when seeking help for mental health issues.
Veterans leaving a highly structured environment with intense experiences can suffer from PTSD, addiction, and suicidal thoughts as they attempt to reintegrate into everyday society after being on the frontlines of war.
As a result, Williams was happy to reach out to Clear Path and offer MHFA to help make attendees more aware of the signs that someone is mentally struggling.
“I compare Mental Health First Aid to a typical CPR class, think of it like that, but for your brain,” Williams explained, “Obviously you are not being equipped to diagnose or treat, it is more about what you are seeing. So, if you see someone in distress, knowing how to approach them and handle that is so important.”
Sometimes even just asking someone if they “are okay” can make a world of difference when someone is in an emotional and mental spiral. This is especially true in instances of PTSD where sometimes the signs of distress are even more subtle.
After taking the initiative to reach out to Clear Path, Williams was excited when Donna Bulger, vice president for Clear Path for Veterans New England was very open to having the MHFA training at the nonprofit. Clear Path was so receptive that they even encouraged their local police officers, firefighters, and public safety professionals to attend as well.
“It sounded like a great program and with the certification aspect it sounded really powerful,” Bulger said about her first impression when she heard that Anna Maria faculty were offering MHFA training.
Bulger particularly appreciated the straightforward discussions of the training, the engaging instructors, and the way that the workshops helped reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
“This is a training must for anyone who works in the trauma field. It is also a training program that is good for anyone. The training takes the mystery and fear out of working with clients, friends, and loved ones who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. It is also a great help for preventative measures as participants are better able to identify warning signs,” Bulger said.
Those interested in becoming a MHFA instructor can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.