Mental Health First Aid for Veterans: New Awareness Program Hopes to Help those Suffering with PTSD


Like many affected by a mental illness, veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often suffer in silence. But a new program hopes to help the friends, family members and associates of veterans with PTSD to connect with the treatment they deserve.

The Mental Health First Aid program provides training for care providers. The training is not intended to diagnose or treat the illness, but merely to identify potential warning signs of PTSD and reach out to discuss the issue in a gentle, non-confrontational manner.

Mental Health First Aid program organizers cite 5 steps in reaching out to veterans[1]. These include:

  • Assess the risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other supportive strategies

The Mental Health First Aid USA program is managed, operated, and disseminated by the National Council for Behavioral Health, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Missouri Department of Mental Health. The in-person, 8-hour courses are available in local communities in a single all-day session, or broken into 2 or 4 sessions. Lead by 1 or 2 certified instructors, people taking the course learn about risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, gain information on depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, and addiction disorders, and learn how to help someone find the resources they need for help[2].

Practical experience is applied in the course by showing students how the 5-step plan above is applied in real-world situations such as when someone is experiencing:

  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Nonsuicidal self-injury
  • Acute psychosis (e.g., hallucinations or delusions)
  • Overdose or withdrawal from alcohol or drug use
  • Reaction to a traumatic event

Students gain skills through role-playing type scenarios and activities so they can gain insight on how to apply mental health first aid with someone they might know personally.

Other Mental Health First Aid Efforts are Growing

The fiscal year 2014 federal budget saw support for mental health fist aid with a new grant program providing $15 million as part of President Obama’s Now is the Time initiative. This provided funding for training teachers and other individuals who work with students to help schools and communities understand, recognize and respond to signs of mental illness or substance use in children[3].

Additionally, the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013 (S. 153/H.R. 274) has been introduced in the House by Congressman Ron Barber (D-AZ) and in the Senate by Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) with nine bipartisan cosponsors. It authorizes $20 million in grants to fund Mental Health First Aid training programs around the country. Course material would include:

  • Recognizing the symptoms of common mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
  • De-escalating crisis situations safely.
  • Initiating timely referral to mental health and substance abuse resources available in the community[4].

Training programs under this demonstration project would be offered to emergency services personnel, police officers, teachers/school administrators, primary care professionals, students, and others with the goal of improving Americans’ mental health, reducing stigma around mental illness, and helping people who may be at risk of suicide or self-harm and referring them to appropriate treatment.

As it currently stands, in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, 21 states introduced or are considering legislation or appropriations for Mental Health First Aid[5]. Unlike other health policy initiatives that are currently stalled, it does seem that mental health first aid is a concept that is steadily gaining traction.



[1] Gwen Baumgardner, “Training Course to Help Veterans with Mental Illness,” Kansas First News, (November 22nd, 2014),

[2] Mental Health First Aid USA,

[3] “Federal Grants for Mental Health First Aid,” Mental Health First Aid USA,

[4] “The Mental Health First Aid Act,” Mental Health First Aid USA,

[5] “2014 State Policy Toolkit,” Mental Health First Aid USA,


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