By Sloane M. Perron, Manager of Marketing Communications 

Anna Maria College is working with public safety departments across the Commonwealth to increase the number of professionals trained in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). The College received $1 million from the Department of Justice in 2022 to resource the training initiative through the support of Senator Edward Markey and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Currently, Anna Maria’s focus is on training cohorts of MHFA instructors to recognize and respond to mental health issues. These trainings come at a time when stress, burnout, and fatigue are taking an emotional toll on first responders and public safety professionals.   

Mental Health First Aid is a nationally recognized skills-focused training curriculum from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing that teaches participants about issues in mental health and substance use.  The purpose of this program is to increase mental health literacy and reduce stigma associated with mental health challenges. Participants learn to identify and react to signs of mental health challenges and substance use disorders and explore ways to handle mental health crises. 

According to Judith LeDoux ‘21 G’22, Project Director of Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Administration funding will help equip the public safety community with the skills and knowledge needed to address and manage situations involving the increasingly prevalent mental health and substance use challenges. The goal is to increase the number of instructors and individuals trained in Mental Health First Aid across all sectors of public safety, including law enforcement, the fire service, emergency medical services, corrections, and dispatch.   

In addition to training individuals already working in public safety, the project will also be training Anna Maria College students enrolled in public safety majors such as Fire Science, Criminal Justice, and Paramedic Science in Mental Health First Aid. LeDoux and Dr. John Pratico, Dean of Behavioral and Mental Health Programs, collaborated with Anna Maria’s EMT class and certified 13 students in MHFA. As a result, these trained students will now create a ripple effect as they provide support and understanding to the future departments that they enter.  

Anna Maria’s first MHFA initiative of 2023 took place in January at the Holden Public Safety Building where professionals from various public safety agencies were trained, including Paxton PD, Holden FD, Worcester PD, Leominster PD, Sterling PD, Gardner FD, Shirley PD, Boylston PD, Clinton PD, and the Massachusetts State Police. 

“Many of the newly certified instructors have expressed excitement in bringing the training back to their departments, as it provides a lot of valuable knowledge and practical skills in regard to recognizing and assisting individuals who are facing mental health and substance use challenges and crises in the communities they serve,” LeDoux said. 

The next MHFA training for instructors will take place on March 7-9th at Anna Maria College with local police and fire departments, including the Massachusetts State Police and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department, in attendance.  

Future scheduled trainings involve members of the State Department of Corrections and individuals from the training departments of Suffolk County, Essex County, Norfolk County, and Middlesex County Sheriff’s Departments. 

For more information about Anna Maria’s MHFA training initiative and upcoming trainings visit: