Mental Health Promotion

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an eight hour skills-based training course that teaches participants about mental health and substance-use issues. MHFA is designed to give members of the public key skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis, and identify multiple types of resources. Just as CPR training helps a layperson without medical training assist an individual following a heart attack, MHFA training helps a layperson assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

The evidence behind MHFA demonstrates that it makes people feel more comfortable managing a crisis situation and builds mental health literacy – helping the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness. Specifically, studies found that those who trained in Mental Health First Aid have greater confidence in providing help to others, greater likelihood of advising people to seek professional help, improved concordance with health professionals about treatments, and decreased stigmatizing attitudes. For more information on MHFA and the research and evidence-base behind it, please visit the Mental Health First Aid website.

Mental Health First Aid focuses on a five step action plan by assessing the risk of suicide or harm, listening non-judgmentally, giving reassurance, encourage professional help, and encourage self-help or other support strategies. Participants practice these strategies through role plays, scenarios, and activities. After learning the action plan, participants feel more confident intervening in situations of panic attacks, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, psychosis, overdose or withdrawal from alcohol or drug use, and reactions to a traumatic event.

To find information on the number of trainings and people trained in MHFA, visit our data page.

There are two main MHFA programs available through the country that focus adults and youth:


Teaches individuals how to recognize signs of mental health and substance use challenges in adults over 18, how to offer initial support, and how to guide someone toward appropriate care. Topics include depression, anxiety, psychosis, and addictions.


Teaches parents, family members, care givers, teachers, or any adult who interacts often with youth how to help a teen (ages 12-18) who is experiencing mental health challenges. This provides an overview of adolescent development, and introduces a 5 step action plan to help teens in crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics include depression, anxiety, psychosis, substance use, disruptive behavior and eating disorders.

In addition to the two standard programs, there are modules available throughout Virginia that cater to special populations such as:

There are also programs to become a trainer of Mental Health First Aid. See the map below to find a trainer in your area.