CRESTVIEW — Starting March 31, Bridgeway Center Inc. will provide Youth Mental Health First Aid training for the Okaloosa Technical College practical nursing program.

The eight-hour course gives people the tools to identify when someone might be struggling with a mental health or substance use problem and to connect them with support and resources when necessary.

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

“For friends and family members, it can be hard to know when and how to step in. As a result, those in need of mental health services often do not get them until it is too late.”

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

"Through this program, we hope to take the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems," Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, said. "When more people are equipped with the tools they need to start a dialogue, more people can get the help they may need."

The council helped bring MHFA to the U.S. in 2008. In 10 years, MHFA has become a movement in the United States, with more than 550,000 people as certified MHF Aiders, according to the media release.

Bridgeway Center Inc., has two Youth MHFA instructors and one Adult MHFA instructor. BCI has provided training to over 285 Okaloosa County residents and professionals since 2015. This includes guidance counselors for Okaloosa County schools and Sheriff's Office School Resource Officers.

Contact Lisa Lydston, BCI, at 833-7500 extension 203 or lisa.lydston@bridgeway.org for more information.