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First Aid for Mental Health

Kaiser Permanente is funding free training courses to empower employees and the community to respond compassionately when someone is experiencing a mental health challenge. Pictured, Robert Vega, RN (left), took the course and then shared key information with his team of nurses.

Robert Vega, RN, is a nurse manager of a Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek Medical Center unit that cares for patients with respiratory complications. He said it’s not unusual for his team to see patients who are agitated, frustrated, or appearing to hallucinate, and it’s not always clear if the issue is delirium, dementia, or mental illness.

Ivan Villaseñor-Madriz of Catholic Charities of the East Bay helps lead a Mental Health First Aid training at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco.

That’s why Vega recently attended a free 8-hour training course called Mental Health First Aid, offered by Catholic Charities of the East Bay. Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit, in partnership with Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s nursing leadership, is funding 8 sessions of the free course and offering it to employees and members of the community.

The goal is to train people to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders so they can help others who are struggling or in crisis. Vega described the course as a “great program,” with information and techniques that he could share with his nursing staff right away.

“It gives you a real awareness of what to look for and how to speak with people who are showing signs of mental illness,” he said. “There’s a lot of variability, so without knowing, it could be easy to overlook that someone might be struggling.”

The course also offers strategies for helping people stay safe and comfortable until they’re able to get professional help, and resources for mental health and addiction treatment and support.

Tools and Training to Help Someone in Distress

Mental Health First Aid is intended for anyone, not just health care professionals, who is interested in learning how to help people experiencing anxiety, depression, psychosis, or addictions. The National Council for Behavioral Health operates the Mental Health First Aid organization in the United States with a goal of making its training course as common as CPR or traditional first aid.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States will experience mental illness in a given year, but fewer than half of them will receive mental health services.

“People want to know how to help someone who is in distress, but they often don’t have the tools or training,” said Cat Willett, lead Mental Health First Aid instructor for Catholic Charities of the East Bay. “A heart attack and a panic attack share common symptoms, but most people don’t know how to help someone having a panic attack, even though it happens more frequently.”

The Mental Health First Aid course aims to change that. Peggi Winter, RN, DNP, Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s director of professional development and education for Patient Care Services helped launch the series of courses funded by Kaiser Permanente.

“The surveys we offer at the end of the course show people have increased confidence in their ability to help someone who is experiencing a mental health issue,” said Winter. “That’s what this course is all about.”

The course could also have a subtler but important effect. Tracy Ward, LCSW, project manager for Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community Benefit, said she hopes it will help eliminate the stigma long associated with mental illness.

“Education demystifies mental illness and that helps people talk about it and respond to it differently,” she said. “If we talk about mental illness more openly, people experiencing mental illness may get more support from their friends, family members, and coworkers — and maybe they’ll feel less alone.”

The Mental Health First Aid training courses sponsored by Kaiser Permanente Northern California this spring are now full. Additional classes may be planned for later this year, but there is currently no information to share. To find a training course in your area, visit the Mental Health First Aid website. To learn about future Kaiser Permanente sponsored training courses, contact


behavioral healthCommunity BenefitSan FranciscoWalnut Creek

This Post Has 22 Comments

    1. Please see the new note at the bottom of the article for the latest information we have about registering for upcoming classes. Thanks for your interest.

  1. Please let us know how to sign up for this class. It would be so useful, at home and at work.
    Thank you!

  2. I think this is a great idea! Many of our patients are very tired, sleep deprived, and not happy. (Ambulatory Sleep Department) This could be a very useful tool to help defuse tense situations and better help our patients.
    However, what first caught my eye was the byline “identify and respond compassionately…”
    I would love it if there were classes offered to help teach empathy and compassion; not just to patients and visitors, but to our fellow workers. Are there any classes along that line?

    1. Thanks for your comment Gina. You don’t have to be an RN to attend the class. It’s open to anyone who is interested in learning how to help people experiencing anxiety, depression, psychosis, or addictions.

  3. This is awesome. I am glad to see mental health issue is gaining momentum and people want to learn about it. This will help improve the wholesome good health. As a mental health practitioner and a nurse, I am impressed and would like to lend a hand if needed.

  4. These classes were sold out quickly. Making this information open to all the people that are interested may help to begin to empower people in need to speak up. Please offer this class and others like it to reach those who want to make a difference for all who have mental health issues.

  5. Hi, I am very interested, and so are my colleagues, in taking this course. The ones in Oakland and San Jose are both sold out, unless (in San Jose) you are a non-Kaiser affiliate. When/where will be the other classes? Can you come to specific departments and teach the course during department meetings? Thank You. Songreta.

    1. Thanks for writing in Songreta. There was a very strong response to our article, and the 2 classes planned for this spring filled up quickly. Additional classes may be planned for later this year, but we don’t have any information to share yet.

  6. Hi there,
    Says the training is sold out. Will there be any additional trainings offered? Health Education would love to attend. Thanks so much!

  7. Oh no! Will there be weekend classes in the near future? Or classes near the San Francisco area? Oakland is “sold out.” 🙁

    1. Thanks for your question. Mental Health First Aid is intended for anyone, not just health care professionals, who is interested in learning how to help people experiencing anxiety, depression, psychosis, or addictions.

  8. Great job! We all need to be trained for Mental Health First Ad. Is it possible to have online trainings for mental health topics like our compliance training courses?

  9. This is very beneficial to all KP health care providers. I hope that you will offer this class in the Sacramento area. Or better yet, make it a mandatory class for at least the RNs.

  10. I would love to take this course. Right now, the link shows that the only place in California that it is offered is in Fresno. Is this correct? That seems like it might be a mistake, as the article is the East Bay course. How can I find a class in the Bay Area?

  11. This is great! Our communities are in great need of these learning opportunities and deeper mindfulness.

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