MHFA Newsletter - May 2017

Mental Health First Aid News and Notes- May 2017

Message from Denise:  What is hope? 

In the most recent edition of my AARP magazine (yes I’m a proud AARP member!) the cover story featured Michael J. Fox.  The article posed the question:  “Why is Michael still smiling 26 years after his Parkinson’s diagnosis?”  A couple of Michael’s insights about his experience seemed to connect with Action Step G in ALGEE:  Give Reassurance and Information.  

In the article Michael talked about having to, “deal with the condition and also having to deal with people’s perception of the condition.”  How does that connect with mental illness?   I know I have been guilty of seeing the illness/disabling condition/impact and responding to what I think that means, rather than seeing the person and what his/her experience of life might be.  Saying to myself, “Oh poor Jane!” is about my perception rather than acknowledging that the individual is the expert on his/her own experience.  “Poor Jane!” is belittling and patronizing.  

My perceptions of the illness are really about my fear.  When I give reassurance, I’m not offering false hope or minimizing the impact of someone’s experience. Instead I’m approaching each encounter without expectation of how good or bad something is for the individual.  

Michael called hope “informed optimism.”  His words about hope, helped me understand the bullet point in MHFA that talks about “Providing hope for recovery.”  Put in other terms - first aiders provide informed optimism for recovery.  Informed optimism isn’t – 

  • “Things will be better tomorrow!”
  • “Lots of people get better it’s no big deal.” 
  • “It will be OK just do this…”

Informed optimism means I listen to try and understand what that individual is sharing with me about their experience in that moment.  I know I don’t have the answers, but I can walk with that person to find the next step and I have a belief that there is a next step that we can find together.  I can think about what might be a bit of information that this person in this moment might find helpful instead of providing a trite generalization.  Neither of us know what all the steps are, but I believe and can work with the person to take the next step or two in the direction of gathering more information, finding a support person or being a caring companion.

Think about how you can convey to your class participants what hope means – what it sounds like, looks like and feels like.

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”  ~Emily Dickinson






Instructor Corner:  Healthcare Insurance 101: Using Health Coverage to Access Behavioral Health Services
by Kristin Hartsaw, MPH, MCHES, Program Director, Training and Technical Assistance at DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform

(In light of the legislative efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act, I asked Kristin Hartsaw to provide us with information about current health plans and enrollment.)


One of the many hats I wear at the Federation is working as a Certified Application Counselor.  In this role, I provide enrollment assistance to individuals and families seeking health coverage through Medicaid and the ACA Marketplace.  I have learned that many people may not understand considerations for choosing a plan.  They also do not always know how to use their coverage.

Common questions to explore when choosing a plan include:

  • Will the plan cover all of the health care services needed?
  • Will the plan cover specific service or medicine needed?
  • Will the plan pay for visits to my current doctor?

The issue of provider networks is one that is heard frequently.  Consumers should always explore their plan’s network, and call their own providers to assure that they are not only in-network, but still accepting patients with that plan.  Depending on the plan, using an out-of-network provider may result in higher costs for the consumer, or not be covered at all.   Consumers should explore provider networks not only for their primary care, but also for behavioral health services or other specialties. 

Each plan offers a Summary of Benefits Coverage document, which outlines the services covered by the plan, and the cost sharing responsibilities for the consumer.  This can be important to review so that consumers know the level of services available through their plan.  This document is where they may locate information about the cost-sharing for in-patient and out-patient mental health or substance use disorder services.

Prescription formularies provide information about which medications are covered by the plan and at what level.  Medications are categorized by tier levels.   The higher the tier, the higher the costs for the consumer.

  • Tier 1 – Generic Drugs
  • Tier 2 – Preferred, brand-name drugs
  • Tier 3 – Non-preferred, brand name drugs
  • Tier 4 – Specialty Drugs (this is sometimes its own tier)

There are a number of resources that provider resources on navigating health coverage, including but not limited to:






MHFA FAQ’s:  Recertification – ALGEE Practice; Instructor Handbook – A Must Read

  • MHFA Recertification - In the same way a CPR recertification is required because people need to refresh skills regularly, MHFA recertification is required for first aiders.  The MHFA certification is good for three years and now there is an easier way to recertify instead of taking another 8 hour course.  The National Council has developed an online 90 minute recertification course that can be accessed on the website.  I decided to check it out and signed up for the course (there is a $29.95 fee to take the online course.  While a quick review of prevalence information and the signs and symptoms of mental health distress are addressed, the focus of the course is to review and practice the ALGEE skills.  So after a reminder as to what the ALGEE Action Plan is, the bulk of the course activity is scenario work.  The first aider is presented with several situations and must decide how to respond based on several options.  Based on the participant’s selection the scenario unfolds.  Suggestions and tips are offered to either support or gently correct a selection made by the respondent.  After working through the scenarios and having several opportunities to apply the ALGEE skills, participants have to take another 10 question quiz.  (Here’s a hint: it’s the same quiz we use in the class.)  As instructors you do not need to take this recertification course, but if class participants ask about recertification, you can give them a heads up about what to expect.
  • MHFA Instructor Handbook – With the number of MHFA instructors now over the 10,000 mark, the National Council has codified the requirements and expectations of instructors.  This new handbook is available on the instructor website.  In fact, when you login to the instructor website for the first time, you will be required to acknowledge that you have received, read and agreed to the expectations outlined in the document.  The handbook details annual teaching requirements and the extension policy.  More importantly the handbook clearly specifies how MHFA courses are to be delivered and what instructors must do to obtain credit for teaching a course.  Guidelines are provided for marketing and pricing – this information is particularly helpful if you are setting up courses under our Franchise Model.  Please (I recommend this in each issue!) login to the instructor portal and become familiar with the handbook.  Make use of all of the other resources on the portal as well.






Curriculum Corner:  Teaching the Substance Use Disorders Section

Its mid-afternoon, your MHFA class started at 8 am and now it’s your responsibility to teach the Substance Use Disorder section.  What to do?  How can you keep the group engaged?What are the key elements of this section?  

I find in attending many MHFA classes that this is the section most often neglected, short-changed (due to time constraints) and least understood from an instructor standpoint.  Here are the key messages to teach and ways to keep the group engaged.

Key Messages:

  • The primary focus is on recognizing warning signs and knowing how to reach out and connect people with help.  (I took this right from our manual.)
  • The title of the section is substance USE disorder NOT substance ABUSE disorder.
  • Substance use disorders are real illnesses – encourage participants to use empathy not judgement in being first aiders.
  • All of the information on the slides is mainly to get the group thinking about how to be good noticers.
  • Be sure to emphasize the increased suicide risk along with risk to physical health related to substance use.
  • Practice, practice, practice ALGEE skills.  Help your participants practice how they will approach someone and connect that person with help.

 Keep your Class Members Engaged

  • Enlist the class in connecting with each slide.  For example:
    • Connect the information to a real situation.  
    • Have them provide examples for the information.  
    • Have the participants use their manuals a lot.
  • On the slide titled Warning Signs (#72), have the group brainstorm about what examples of the different warnings signs might look like – what specifically might they notice?
  • For the questions listed on page 76 of your teaching manual, have small groups find the answers to the questions.  (Write the questions on the large easel paper and give the groups a few minutes to find the answers to these questions in their books- what does the book say?).
  • Engage the group in a discussion about the drugs causing disruption in their communities (slide #73) rather than talking about each drug listed on the slide.  Use the What Am I? worksheet to briefly review some of the substances.
  • Do the activity listed on page 82 of the teaching manual.  Read one of the substance use scenarios and have small groups write down and test out some approach statements they might use.  Connect this activity with the information on slide #77.
  • Relate the Stages of Change Model to another type of behavior someone might want to change.  Ask the group to consider how the approach action might change based on what stage of change a person is in.
  • Relate all of the ALGEE action steps to the scenario read for the approach activity.






MHFA Spotlight- Peggy Kiefer 

Peggy Kiefer teaching at Waubonsee Community College

Peggy went through MHFA training at Elmhurst Hospital in the summer of 2015. Peggy has a BS in Elementary/Special Education and a MA in Parenting Education and Support (PES), from DePaul University.  She continued post graduate work at Erikson Institute in the Infant Mental Health Certificate Program, commencing in June, 2014.  In September, 2015, she completed the Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Credential through the Illinois Association for Infant Mental Health (IAIMH).

Currently, Peggy is the supervisor of the Parents as Teachers (PAT) Home Visiting program in Naperville CUSD #203, a grant funded program through the Illinois State Board of Education.  Peggy oversees four home visitors who partner with families while supporting their parenting.  She has been working with families of our youngest learners (prenatal through five years old) for over 20 years.  Previous to that, she worked in the Early Intervention system and raised her own three children who are all independent young adults. 

Peggy also serves on the Board of Parenting 4 Non-Violence ( which is an organization “that helps empower parents with the proven skills and techniques necessary for raising their children in emotionally healthy ways so that their children can survive and thrive personally, socially and academically in today’s world”.  

Peggy says, “The First Aid Mental Health program brings light to the mental health arena.  It educates how mental health struggles are biologically/neurologically based as many other illnesses are. It gives “names” to the diagnoses that have symptoms and behaviors that often frighten and may alienate people from one another. It is a welcoming awareness of differences that are often difficult to explain.”

Throughout her many years of home visiting, she has seen the challenges that families with mental health concerns may struggle with.  The impact it has on children and other family members can be devastating.  Her educational background in both Parent Support and Infant/EC Mental Health, has taught her that the more support and acknowledgement of needs one has, the better for everyone associated. 

Peggy notes that parenting is not an easy task, much less if there is some extenuating circumstances that may not be getting addressed.  Her belief that both healthy minds and bodies are what’s best for families is what draws her to be a mental health first aider.  “The awareness that is taught is at a level that can make sense for a wide variety of community members; from the receptionist at the pediatrician’s office to the security guard at the Department of Human Services office.  All of these “helpers” interface with families and can help lighten a parent’s struggles if they may notice a mental health concern,” she explains.

Peggy has taught a variety of MHFA class participants including school nurses, faith based personnel, and city workers.  She enjoys hearing the comments about how great the information is and how helpful it will be in their line of work.  Peggy says, “I am thankful that I am able to be a part of this “information sharing” that is so vital to healthy communities.”
Thanks for your work with MHFA Peggy.






Teaching Tips:   

I’m glad that so many of you have been able to take advantage of classes set up by NAMI DuPage.  I know the availability of these classes came at the just the right time for many of you who needed additional classes to teach prior to your anniversary dates.  I wanted to be clear about how classes arranged through their organization will differ from the support Trina and I typically provide.  

NAMI DuPage (Sara Hynes) works to set up and organize registration and location details for MHFA and YMHFA classes within a certain geographic region.  It is my understanding that they will provide you with books and handout materials for each class.  You may need to pick up these items from NAMI or some other prearranged location prior to the class.  You should also check with them about whose responsibility it is to provide for the easel paper, markers and any other materials you might need.  You will not have the pens, pads of writing paper, or the resource information that Linden Oaks typically provides during a class.  

Most importantly please determine well in advance, who is responsible for the computer, projector, speakers and DVD equipment.  It may be expected that you provide your own AV items so you want to anticipate this in advance.  Make sure that whatever equipment is used, you are able to play the videos on a DVD player.  NAMI does all of the National Council documentation for each class, so you will not have to register the attendees on the National Council website.
NAMI Responsibilities Your Responsibilities Be sure to check…

Class set up, marketing and registration Bring your flashdrive/PPT and DVD Who is providing the easel paper, markers, masking tape
Provides all books and handout materials Arrange to get materials/books prior to class. Do you have to bring your own AV equipment?  You must be able to play a DVD on whatever equipment you use.  Are speakers available?

Documentation of classes and participants on the National MHFA website Is there resource information available?

If you have any questions about how to facilitate the activities during the classes, don’t hesitate to call.  I would be happy to talk you through how to explain and lead the activities. 





New Collaborations

  • Lewis University
  • Elmhurst College
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention





  • Linden Oaks has a new public education course that is now available.  We are offering a 2 hour De-escalation Course that is appropriate for a wide range of audiences but is similar to MHFA in that it is designed more for the general public.  The course addresses some of the common mistakes that people make in escalated situations, provides a basic understanding of physiological processes that occur in stressful circumstances and how this impacts behavior and teaches a set of skills to use as the person who is intervening.  The cost of the course is $200 for an organization to host and utilizes lecture, video and activities to assist in developing the necessary skills.  If you are interested or know of an organization that might benefit from hosting this class contact Christine Hanley at
  • Remember all Consortium members are eligible to attend Linden Oaks educational seminars for free.  Linden Oaks offers seminars at the Mill Street location on a monthly basis.  These are generally worth 3 CEU’s.  Linden Oaks also provides webinars worth 1 CEU that are offered every other month.  Seminars for 2017 are listed on the website.  To register for a class call 630-527-6363 and let the receptionist know you are an MHFA instructor.  On-line registration for the events will not allow you to access the free class benefit.
  • At the National MHFA Summit held in Seattle in April, they announced that there have been over 1 million Mental Health First Aiders trained in the nation.  Here’s an update on our contribution to that number.   In the first three months of 2017 we trained 231 people.  Of that, 134 have been through Franchise Model classes.  Since the inception of our Consortium in 2010 we have trained 8562 individuals in some type of MHFA class. 
  • Congratulations to Domenica Ottolino-Kaht, School District 203 School Social Worker, who recently passed the requirements to teach the Youth MHFA course in Spanish.  Domenica has been an MHFA instructor since 2013, and a Youth MHFA instructor since 2014.  She has taught several adult courses for the consortium in Spanish and we are excited that she will now be able to provide the Youth class in Spanish.  If you know of any potential opportunities to provide either class in Spanish, please let me know so that we can utilize Domenica’s talents.
  • The National Council has updated the Youth MHFA materials in much the same way that the adult materials were updated.  We are in the process of transitioning to these new materials, but still have some older books to use up.  I will let you know when we make the jump to the updated versions.