Mental Health Class Trains For Emergencies

Free Mental Health First Aid classes are focusing on teaching community members how to recognize when someone is having a mental health crisis, and empower them to help.

The classes, put on by Optum Pierce and the City of Tacoma, are free eight-hour sessions meant to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and to teach people critical skills to help those with mental health illnesses.

The most recent class was held on May 6 and 17 people attended. Two more classes are scheduled for June 1 and 2.

“Mental Health First Aid teaches participants what to look for and how to respond when an individual is in crisis,” said Kim Dodds, a mental health chemical dependency program coordinator for the City of Tacoma Neighborhood & Community Services Department. “It also helps educate the community so we can talk more openly about the impact of mental health and substance use issues and reduce the stigma around seeking help.”

Course subjects include identifying potential risks, learning about community resources, listening, reassuring, and encouraging

Michael Hardie, who has taught the class since 2009, said the training is good for anyone in the community, especially those that work in situations that might exacerbate mental health conditions, such as emergency responders. Like a traditional first aid class, which treats physical conditions, mental health first aid treats those in high-stress, high-risk situations.

“The goal is to get people access to care,” Hardie said. “We want to help more people get support.”

May is Mental Health Awareness month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates one in five adults — or 43.8 million people — in the United States suffer from some form of mental illness in a given year.

“We have to learn to talk about mental health,” Hardie said.

The class on June 1 will deal with kids, and helping assist young people in times of crisis. The June 2 class will focus more on general mental health first aid.

To register, e-mail Hardie at To learn more, visit

is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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