County of Marin - News Releases - Mental Health First Aid

For Immediate Release
March 15, 2019

First Aid Can Be for Mental Health Assistance, Too

County offers free classes to help those showing signs of a crisis

San Rafael, CA – Many Marin County residents have experienced a first aid course to assist an injured person or breath life with CPR. But fewer have experience with mental health first aid.

Mental Health Month isn’t until May, but the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) works year-round to spread the word about mental health wellness programs. Its free mental health first aid training sessions teach people how to provide timely assistance to those showing signs of having a crisis of mental illness.

About 20 people pose after a Spanish-language training session for mental health first aid.Dr. Marisol Munoz-Kiehne (bottom, center), a bilingual clinical psychologist with Marin HHS, poses with staff from North Marin Community Services after a Spanish-language training in mental health first aid.
“Timely intervention can save lives, but people need to recognize the signs and know the most affective steps to take right away, very similar to the way we do CPR,” said Dr. Jei Africa, Director of HHS’ Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Division. “Like lots of other communities, Marin is highly concerned about suicide and non-fatal but debilitating mental health crises that occur around us. We offer an educational knowledge base that could save lives.”

On April 1, staff from the Behavior Health and Recovery Services division will hold an all-day training on how to help an adolescent (ages 12-18) who is in a mental health dilemma. The course introduces common mental health challenges for youths, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.

Although the class is focused on how to help young people, class is for people of all ages, including first responders, students and teachers, leaders of faith communities, service providers, and any caring individuals. It is not designed for trained mental health providers. The class takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Marin County Office of Education, 1111 Las Gallinas Avenue, San Rafael.

There is a training May 3 for adults in crisis. That course will be at the Marin Health and Wellness Campus, 3240 Kerner Boulevard, San Rafael.

Also, one session will be conducted in Spanish on June 1 at the North Marin Community Services, 680 Wilson Avenue, Novato.

For all the sessions, register by calling 415-473-6403 or emailing Veronica Alcala.

In the U.S., 43.8 million adults experience mental illness and approximately one in five young people experiences symptoms of a mental health problem in a given year. According to California Healthy Kids Survey, in 2015-2016, 26 percent of ninth graders and 30 percent of 11th graders in Marin County reported feeling chronically sad/hopeless. Fifteen percent of ninth graders and 13 percent of 11th graders said they had had contemplated suicide in the past 12 months.  

Mental health first aid teaches participants to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Participants learn to reach out and provide initial support to someone and help connect them to the appropriate care.

“People are often intimidated by what they don’t understand,” Africa said. “Through increased mental health literacy and empathy, we can reduce that stigma and increase the likelihood of quick assistance for someone who needs it right away.”

The mental health first aid courses account for relevant cultural factors and do not require a background in health or mental health. Trainers may adapt courses to the needs of different age groups or professions.

Learn more about HHS’ efforts on suicide prevention and Behavioral Health and Recovery Services at


Chandrika Zager
Senior Program Coordinator
Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Department of Health and Human Services

20 North San Pedro Road
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6844
CRS Dial 711
Email: Chandrika Zager
Marin HHS webpage