Chamber Chat - Mental Health First Aid

May 21

By Meg Moss


On Monday and Tuesday, June 12 and 13, the United Way of Lee County will offer Mental Health First Aid training, in partnership with the Lee County Department of Social Services. This 8-hour training gives people in our community the tools to identify when someone might be struggling with a mental health or substance abuse problem and to connect them with appropriate support and resources when necessary. No prior experience or knowledge is needed; the course is designed for community members who want to help those who are dealing with mental health issues.


The course will be offered at the McSwain Extension Center at in Sanford. There is no charge for the course, but participants must preregister and must attend both days.


One in five Americans has a mental illness, but many are reluctant to seek help or might not know where to turn for care. Unlike physical conditions, symptoms of mental health and substance use problems can be difficult to detect.


Just as CPR helps even those without clinical training assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid prepares participants to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Mental Health First Aiders learn a 5-step action plan that guides them through the process of reaching out and offering appropriate support.


In just a few years, Mental Health First Aid has become a full-blown movement in the United States—more than 550,000 people are certified Mental Health First Aiders, and that number is growing every day.


“The need for mental health services has been identified as a priority for our community, and people who complete this training will be able to provide real help to those experiencing mental health issues,” says Kendra Martin, Executive Director of United Way of Lee County. “Knowing what to say and do in these situations helps to reduce anxiety and fear around the subject of mental illness.”


To register for Mental Health First Aid training, visit or call 919-776-5823. 


Another way our community is helping to aid those in a mental health crisis is through Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training provided to our local law enforcement. The (CIT) program is a community partnership of local law enforcement officials, mental health and addiction professionals, individuals who live with mental illness, their families and other advocates. It is a first-responder model of police-based crisis intervention training to help persons with mental disorders and/or addictions access medical treatment rather than place them in the criminal justice system due to illness related behaviors.  It also promotes officer safety and the safety of the individual in crisis. It is a 40 hour course that was provided this past week to local County and City law enforcement officers. Training took place at the Central Carolina Community College Emergency Training Center. Nine local officers participated in the training.


According to Central Carolina Hospital’s Behavioral Health Care Coordinator Jessica Laube, LCSW, officers “learn skills to de-escalate situations, and how to recognize people in crisis so they can get the help they need.  It also teaches tools to encourage a person who needs treatment to access services.”


Marilyn Gilliam, chair of the LeeCAN Mental Health Partners Task Force of the Public Health Department, said the CIT program is a response to a definite need in the community. "Every four years, the Public Health Department conducts an assessment to identify the major health problems in the community," she said. "Mental health has always fallen within the top five most challenging issues. This training is a strategic effort to help people in mental crisis, to ensure the safety of our citizens and our law enforcement officers."


Ashley Graham, the Health Education Supervisor for the Lee County Health Department said that fifty officers have graduated from the training since it started six years ago, and that it started based on input from the Community Health Assessment. She stated that the CIT training is a collaborative effort of Central Carolina Community College, LeeCAN (Community Action Network), as well as various local mental health service providers.


Graham indicated that both the Mental Health First Aide training for members of the community, and the CIT training specifically for law enforcement officials, raise awareness of mental health issues, and help reduce the stigma of mental illness, in hopes that more people will seek treatment.


Please visit the National Alliance on Mental Health at for more information on mental health issues and awareness.

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