If you saw someone trip and fall on the sidewalk, what would you do? Stop to see if they’re OK? Offer to help them up? Call for help if they’re injured?

But what if you saw a person who was agitated, confused or visibly upset? Would you be as willing to help? Probably not.

The fact is that most Americans are more comfortable helping someone in physical distress than someone in emotional distress. People learn CPR to know what to do in the event of a heart attack, but what if someone needs help while in emotional distress?

We have been lucky to be on the front lines of a movement that is changing how America responds to mental illness and addictions.

Mental Health First Aid teaches people to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and addictions, safely help a person and avert a crisis. It gives people the confidence to help someone in emotional distress even if that intervention is only a friendly “Are you OK?”

Studies from around the world show that Mental Health First Aid expands the knowledge of mental illnesses and their treatments and improves the mental health of both the person offering help and the one receiving it. A study of 301 randomized participants found that those who trained in Mental Health First Aid had greater confidence in providing help to others, greater likelihood of advising people to seek professional help and decreased stigmatizing attitudes.

The training is designed for people from all walks of life, from professionals like police officers and teachers who regularly interact with a lot of people, to friends and family of individuals with mental illnesses or addictions. No longer is mental health care solely dependent on a small cadre of psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals. Mental Health First Aid teaches everyday people how to reach out with little acts of kindness that can let someone know they don’t have to struggle alone in silence.

It should be as common to be trained in Mental Health First Aid as it is to be trained in CPR.

We have lost count of the number of people who put into practice their Mental Health First Aid training skills — sometimes even before the course is finished.

More than 26 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — have a diagnosable mental illness in a given year. To date, more than 500,000 Americans have been trained in Mental Health First Aid.

Joe Parks is the senior medical adviser to the National Council for Behavioral Health, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Sharon Thomas-Parks is a licensed professional counselor and a National Mental Health First Aid trainer.

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