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The Wright Center receives training scholarship to promote employee and public understanding of mental health first aid

Training in mental health first aid – a method for recognizing and helping a person with a mental health issue before it results in injury or death – will be offered to the public and employees of The Wright Center for Community Health as part of a national grant-funded initiative.

The Wright Center was recently selected to receive one of eight “training scholarships” to participate in the project, which is supported by Americares and the National Association of Community Health Centers.

The scholarship allows one staff member from each of the eight chosen organizations to become a certified trainer through the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

Owen Dougherty, The Wright Center’s recovery supports manager and behavioral health community liaison, completed his certification with the council in mid-March. He will conduct multiple public training sessions later this year for participants in Northeast Pennsylvania, helping them to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders, and empowering them to intervene when someone needs support.

The free sessions will be open to The Wright Center’s employees and other interested residents, including people with no medical background. Participants will learn to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health issue, not unlike stepping in to call 9-1-1 or provide CPR to someone experiencing a heart attack.

The Wright Center, which operates nine primary care practices in the region, provides a range of mental and behavioral services for patients of all ages, and this training program will serve as a further extension of behavioral health education in the community, says Laura Spadaro, vice president of primary care and public health policy.

Laura Spadaro, vice president of primary care and public health policy.

“Equipping our community with the skills they need to recognize and respond to signs of mental health and substance use disorders,” she says, “will decrease stigma, empower individuals to seek help and increase each participant’s ability to help others who may be experiencing a behavioral health issue.”

Mental health first aid was first introduced in Australia in 2001, and the program was later adapted for use in the United States. Since then, more than 2.5 million people in the United States have been trained by a base of more than 15,000 instructors, according to promoters.

Trainees learn, for example, how to appropriately and safely respond if they see someone having a panic attack or if they become concerned that a friend or co-worker might be showing signs of alcoholism. Mental health first aid takes the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems by improving understanding and providing an action plan.

Americares, based in Stamford, Connecticut, is a health-focused relief and development organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by disaster or poverty.

The National Association of Community Health Centers, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, promotes efficient, high-quality, comprehensive health care that is accessible, culturally and linguistically competent, community-directed and patient-centered for all.

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing, the organization that brought mental health first aid to the United States and certifies trainers, is the unifying voice of organizations that deliver mental health and substance use services in America. The Washington, D.C.-based council is guided by the vision that mental well-being – including recovery from substance use – is a reality for everyone, everywhere.

The Wright Center, which joins with other organizations in promoting May as Mental Health Awareness Month, will announce the dates of its mental health first aid training sessions as they are scheduled. For the latest information on those and the organization’s other upcoming events, visit

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