Ben Rosen
Director of Public Information
New York State Office of Mental Health

February 17, 2016

Hutchings Psychiatric Center and SUNY Upstate Medical University Awarded $375,000 Grant to Train Onondaga County Residents in Mental Health First Aid

Program Will Train up to 1,750 Adults Over 3 years; Reach up to 25,000 Young People

The New York State Office of Mental Health’s Hutchings Psychiatric Center and SUNY Upstate Medical University announced that they have been awarded a $375,000 three-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to support the training of a diverse group of adults in Mental Health First Aid. This training will help adults detect mental illness occurring in youth in Onondaga County and connect them with needed services.

“One in four Americans will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. As with many other health issues, early identification and intervention of mental illness is key to helping people find support and begin their journey to recovery. Mental Health First Aid is a nationally renowned program that is making a huge difference in the way that mental illness is recognized, treated, and accepted by communities. This is a very exciting program and I cannot wait to see the impact it has within Onondaga County and beyond!” said New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Marie T. Sullivan.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an internationally-recognized public education program that introduces adults to the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems in young people and builds an understanding of the importance of early intervention. Participants are introduced to local mental health resources, national organizations, support groups, and online tools for mental health and addictions treatment and support. By implementing MHFA, Hutchings Psychiatric Center and SUNY Upstate Medical University expect to see increased mental health awareness and literacy among adults and community organizations, and thereby earlier interventions and better access to care for young people.

"SUNY Upstate Medical University is pleased to work with New York state and Hutchings Psychiatric Center on such an important initiative,” said Dr. Danielle Laraque-Arena, president of SUNY Upstate Medical University. “This collaborative approach to enhancing early identification of and linkage to evidence-based treatment for mental health problems, as well as, community -based efforts at health promotion in support of resiliency, has the potential to move us forward by leaps and bounds in how our community cares for and nurtures its youth."

It is estimated that by the end of the three year grant period, Project AWARE will be able to conduct 70 MHFA workshops, train approximately 1500 – 1750 people in MHFA and in the process reach 20,000 – 25,000 youth in Onondaga County. These workshops will be free of charge to those youth-serving agencies and organizations. This program will significantly expand and enhance the ongoing mental health literacy programs in the community, and improve health and mental health outcomes for children in Onondaga County.

“Being part of a program that normalizes mental health issues, taking mental health even further from the shadows is very exciting. To be able do so through partnership makes the endeavor all the more impactful. This is exactly the kind of thing we want to be doing in our community, for our community.” said Hutchings Psychiatric Center Executive Director Dr. Mark Cattalani.

Program participants will be identified through extensive outreach to various academic, faith-based, and community organizations, as well as to first-responders and youth centers. Collaborative partnerships for this program have already been established with Onondaga Community College, LeMoyne College, OCM-BOCES, Teen Challenge, Southwest Community Center, Onondaga County, and Upstate Emergency Medicine, Inc.

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour training certification course that teaches participants a five-step action plan to assess a situation, select and implement interventions and secure appropriate care for the individual. The certification program introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds understanding of their impact and overviews common treatments. Thorough evaluations in randomized controlled trials and a quantitative study have proved the CPR-like program effective in improving trainees’ knowledge of mental health issues, reducing stigma and increasing the amount of help provided to others.

For more information about Project AWARE’s programs and services in Onondaga County, contact Laurie Best, Project Director, at 315-426-6812 or

For more information about Project AWARE, please visit:


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