Mental Health First Aid is a public education program that can help individuals across the community to understand mental illnesses, support timely intervention, and save lives. 


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Why Mental Health First Aid?

One in five Americans has a mental illness and many are reluctant to seek help or might not know where to turn for care. The symptoms of mental illness can be difficult to detect — even when friends and family of someone who appears to be developing a mental illness can tell that something is amiss, they may not know how to intervene or direct the person to proper treatment – which means that all too often, those in need of mental health services do not get them until it is too late. As a society, we largely remain ignorant about the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, and we ignore our role as responsible community members to help people experiencing these illnesses.

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health concerns, builds understanding of their impact, and overviews common treatments. The course uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to assess a mental health crisis; select interventions and provide initial help; and connect persons to professional, peer and social supports as well as self-help resources.

Mental Health First Aid allows for early detection and intervention by teaching participants about the signs and symptoms of specific illnesses like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and addictions. The program offers concrete tools and answers key questions like “What can I do?” and “Where can someone find help?” Participants are introduced to local mental health resources, national organizations, support groups, and online tools for mental health and addictions treatment and support.

Mental Health First Aid USA is coordinated by the National Council for Behavioral Health, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Read more about the program in our special 5th Anniversary edition of National Council Magazine.

Reach and Audiences

In 2008, the National Council for Behavioral Health brought Mental Health First Aid to the U.S. To date, hundreds of thousands of people in communities across the country have been trained in Mental Health First Aid through a network of more than 5,000 certified instructors.

Mental Health First Aid has been taught to a variety of audiences, including: health, human services, and social workers; employers and business leaders; faith community leaders; college and university staff and faculty; law enforcement and public safety officials; veterans and family members; persons with mental illness-addictions and their families;  and other caring citizens.

Certified instructors teach the program in communities across the United States. To find a course or contact an instructor in your area, visit

Youth Mental Health First Aid

Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach neighbors, teachers, parents, peers, and caring citizens how to help a youth or teen who is experiencing a mental health or substance
use challenge or is in crisis. The course discusses mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and provides guidance through the ALGEE action plan for both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered in the manual include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.


Advocacy and Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid can become more widespread across the country. Read more about the Mental Health First Aid Act to hear how, and how you can support the act in your community.

Advocates wishing to pursue legislation for Mental Health First Aid at the state or local level should read through our State Policy Toolkit.