Friday, December 1, 2023

The city is giving a free mental health first aid course, and here’s how you can sign up

VIRGINIA BEACH — Have you ever had an interest in, or felt the need to give, mental health first aid?

If so you’re in luck.

On July 18 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, the city’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Prevention Services is offering a free eight-hour Mental Health First Aid public education program, which is designed to give people the skills needed to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.

“The course uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to recognize and respond to the warning signs of specific illnesses,” said Sabrina Pugh, an educator with the Human Services Department.

She said that according to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, and based on national prevalence rates, about 298,000 adult Virginians have a serious mental illness at any time during a given year.

The same national prevalence rates suggest that about 102,000 children and adolescents in Virginia have a serious emotional disturbance, while 65,000 of them are extremely impaired.

“Anyone can take the Adult MHFA course – first responders, students, teachers, leaders of faith communities and other caring citizens. The course gives people the tools to help their friends, family members, colleagues, or others in their community,” she said.

The course will teach participants the risk factors and warning signs of a variety of mental health challenges including anxiety, depression, psychosis, and substance use disorder.

Participants do not learn to diagnose, nor how to provide any therapy or counseling. Rather, they learn how to support a person developing signs and symptoms of a mental illness or in an emotional crisis by applying a core five-step action plan (Assess for risk of suicide or harm; listen non-judgmentally; give reassurance and information; encourage appropriate professional help; and encourage self-help and other support strategies).

The free course begins at 9 a.m. and anyone interested in signing up can call Vanessa Harvey at 757-385-0803, or email her at

The Adult MHFA trainings are offered each month and the Youth MHFA trainings are offered usually during the months of June, July and August. Agencies or organizations that are interested in sponsoring a training may contact Pugh at 757-385-0827.

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