Mental Health First Aid Certification Training Reaches Major Milestone in Iowa (IA UCEDD)

January 12, 2014

As of November 2013, a team of seven instructors from the University of Iowa have certified over 2,000 individuals in Mental Health First Aid.

Mental Health First Aid Certification was provided by instructors at the University of Iowa began with funding from the Community Circle of Care (CCC) project. CCC is Iowa's first SAMHSA-funded Children's Mental Health Systems of Care grant.  The Iowa Department of Human Services, Child Health Specialty Clinics (Iowa's Title V program for children with special health care needs) and the Center for Disabilities and Development (Iowa's UCEDD), partnered on the initial grant application which was funded in 2008.  CCC's model of providing comprehensive consumer and family driven services in a 10 county region in northeast Iowa proved highly successful and cost-effective in meeting the needs of children with serious emotional disturbances. Though Federal funding ended in September of 2012, the model was sustained through funding from the Iowa legislature and the establishment of billable services.

Responding to a request from a community-based provider, CCC launched Mental Health First Aid training in early 2010. Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based education program that helps the public identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds understanding of their impact, and teaches participants a 5-step action plan of how to engage and support individuals who may experience a mental health crisis.  In July of 2013, Mental Health First Aid was added to SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices. 

Seeking to bring the training to the broader University of Iowa community, CCC Mental Health First Aid instructors Jill Kluesner and Mike Hoenig convened a multi-disciplinary team which successfully competed for a SAMHSA-funded Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Campus Suicide Prevention grant.  Launched in August, 2012, the grant utilizes seven training, direct support, and information dissemination interventions, including Mental Health First Aid, aimed at reducing the number of suicides on campus and enhancing public awareness.

Mental Health First Aid training has reached an extremely broad cross-section of the University of Iowa community.  Participants in any given course may include librarians, faculty advisors, police officers, clergy, students and deans.  While empirical data shows a high level of satisfaction with the course, comments such as the one presented below from Student Health triage nurse Katie Cavanaugh concretely illustrate program impact:

"Soon after returning to the clinic from the inservice, I received a call from a student suffering from depression.  I used the information I learned in the training about how to ask someone if they are planning to take their life.  The patient not only answered the question in regards to his current state but embellished it with a historical perspective. The response from the patient was very informative in my assessment."

Dr. Sam Cochran, Director of University Counseling Services and the Campus Suicide Prevention grant director, supports Mental Health First Aid.  "In light of the increase in the numbers of students who are arriving on campus with significant mental health issues, Mental Health First Aid is an ideal training program for the large number of staff, faculty and interested students who interact with students on a day-to-day basis. This training enables our staff and faculty to be able to refer students in need to available resources."

To learn more about Mental Health First Aid, visit  To learn more about the University of Iowa Campus Suicide Prevention grant, contact Mike Hoenig at the Iowa UCEDD.