CHA Launches Mental Health Training Program

Studies show that each year, more than one in five Americans experience a mental health or substance abuse issue, while only 40% of those affected seek treatment. For friends and family members, it can be hard to know when and how to help. As a result, those in need of mental health services often do not receive the help they need.

Through the Mental Health Awareness Training program, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) is offering free Mental Health First Aid trainings in community settings. The program will expand and increase educational opportunities in Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Revere, Somerville and Winthrop.

CHA is offering community trainings focused on adult mental health, challenges common among children and adolescents, and for Veterans and their families. CHA’s Community Health Improvement Department is partnering with community organizations to ensure broad reach and access to increase the community’s capacity to support people with mental health challenges.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an eight-hour certification training that provides individuals with the skills to assist someone facing a mental health crisis. Just as CPR helps those without clinical training assist an individual having a heart attack, MHFA prepares participants to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Trainees will learn a five-step action plan that guides them through the process of reaching out and offering support.

“When we observe someone having a health crisis like a heart attack, or car accident, we don’t hesitate to offer some sort of aid,” noted Jaime Lederer, MSW, MPH, who directs the grant program at CHA.  “People are sometimes less comfortable responding to a mental health crisis – someone experiencing anxiety, severe depression or substance misuse.  MHFA gives laypeople the knowledge and skills they need to provide assistance and refer people for further help.”

Over one million people have been trained in MHFA nationwide, according to the National Council on Behavioral Health, which leads MHFA training efforts.  “Expanding mental health training in our communities will strengthen our capacity to better support and serve those who experience a mental health problem,” explained Lederer. “By removing the fear and hesitation people often feel when discussing mental health and substance use, we can reduce the stigma and equip people with the necessary tools to start a dialogue, and more people can receive the support they may need.”

The MHFA program helps participants recognize the signs and symptoms of a number of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, substance use and ways to respond to crises like suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, and overdoses.

“Research shows that those who have attended a MHFA class feel much more prepared to assist those grappling with mental health issues and to help them get the appropriate services that they need,” noted Lederer, “I look forward to expanding our reach in communities and raising awareness of the resources and services available to help.”

To learn more about the Cambridge Health Alliance’s programs and services, including Mental Health First Aid please visit: CHA is an academic community health system committed to providing high-quality care in Cambridge, Somerville and Boston’s metro-north communities. CHA has expertise in primary care, specialty care and mental health/substance use services, as well as caring for diverse and complex populations. It includes three hospital campuses, a network of primary care and specialty practices and the Cambridge Public Health Dept. CHA patients have seamless access to advanced care through the system’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. CHA is a Harvard Medical School teaching affiliate and is also affiliated with Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Tufts University School of Medicine. For more information, visit

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