Strong Workforce | Healthy Connecticut


Community Capacity Building

Increasing the Ability of Community Members and Health Care Providers to Assist Persons with Behavioral Health Needs

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Overview: This initiative was designed to expand the workforce by improving the behavioral health skills of community members and health and human service providers who are not behavioral health specialists. To accomplish this objective, a NAMI curriculum was adapted for and delivered to Connecticut Department of Labor employees who often encounter individuals in distress. In a second phase of the initiative, the internationally recognized Mental Health First Aid curriculum was delivered to multiple audiences throughout Connecticut.

Need: Individuals experiencing mental health and substance use problems tend to turn first to family members, friends, community members, and other health and human service personnel, rather than to specialty providers in behavioral health. Most of these “first responders” have limited knowledge about behavioral health conditions and the treatment of such conditions. They may have negative attitudes about individuals with mental health and addiction problems and may not know how to be helpful when encountering persons with behavioral health needs. As a group, these individuals constitute an untapped “workforce” that can be deployed to better assist persons in need.


  1. To educate community members and other health and human service personnel about behavioral health conditions.
  2. To decrease stigmatizing attitudes among these first responders towards persons with mental health and substance use conditions.
  3. To develop the skills of community members and health and human service personnel in identifying mental health and substance use problems, providing support to persons in need, intervening in crises, and connecting individuals to appropriate services.

Activities: NAMI-Connecticut and Yale University staff members adapted a NAMI curriculum for the Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL). The six-hour in-person training series was designed for delivery in two sessions of three hours each. Yale and NAMI staff served as trainers, along with persons in recovery from mental illness who also served as educators. DOL participants were oriented to The Network of Care website on mental health as a resource tool. Participants also received numerous informational brochures about mental health programs and resources, as well as a laminated card highlighting practical strategies for responding to a person with behavioral health needs.

In the second phase of this initiative, the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course was offered throughout the state. The program was developed in Australia and is available in the United States through the National Council on Community Behavioral Health Care. MHFA is a 12-hour training course developed for members of the public. The program creates greater awareness about mental health conditions and aims to decrease stigma and dispel myths about persons with mental illness. Participants learn basic skills in identifying mental health problems, providing support to persons with these problems, responding to a mental health crisis, and linking individuals to appropriate services. The training program consists of two 6-hour days and attendance at both days qualifies the participant to receive a certificate of completion.

Mental Health First Aid is intended for a variety of audiences, including interested community members, administrative and other non-treatment personnel in state and non-profit human service agencies, friends and family of individuals with mental health or addiction problems, members of faith communities, and other groups and organizations that make up the fabric of local towns and cities. These diverse types of individuals participated in the trainings offered throughout Connecticut.

Results: In 2008, 67 Department of Labor staff participated in the training offered by Yale and NAMI-CT staff. Participant evaluations indicated high levels of satisfaction with training content, presentation skills, and relevance to participants. During 2009-2010, Yale and community staff became certified MHFA trainers and the Collaborative sponsored six Mental Health First Aid courses offered to a total of 114 participants. An average of 25 individuals participated in each course. Demand for the courses was extremely high, with the available slots usually filling within 48 hours of the course being announced. Surveys indicated very positive participant attitudes towards the course. The courses were offered in six different locations to ensure broad access throughout Connecticut.

Current Status: Certified trainers of Mental Health First Aid are now based in Connecticut and are prepared to deliver the Mental Health First Aid course.

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Contact Information

Michael Hoge, Ph.D.
CT Workforce Collaborative on Behavioral Health

T: 203-785-5629
F: 203-785-2028