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Cook County addresses mental help support with Mental Health First Aid Trainings

May 01, 2023 09:49AM ● By Content Editor
Photo: Image: Kristina Mattson (right) and Carrie Anderson (2nd from right) address the Youth Mental Health First Aid class.  

From Cook County Public Health and Human Services - May 1, 2023

by: Jenna Olson
Public Health Communications Coordinator
Carlton-Cook-Lake-St. Louis Community Health Board 

One recent day in April, with the threat of a spring ice storm bearing down on northeastern Minnesota and the school district already calling for a subsequent E-learning day, a committed group of Cook County residents gathered to become certified in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). This was the second cohort to gather in as many months—the first focused on adult mental health, the second on youth.

Much like other first aid trainings, which equip you to respond when someone experiences a physical health crisis, MHFA training equips you to respond to signs of mental health distress and substance use disorders. 

Carrie Anderson, Naturalist with Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center and Certified MHFA Instructor, brought the idea for these trainings to the county’s Mental Health Advisory Committee, which is where Kristina Mattson, Cook County’s State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) Coordinator jumped in on the planning. Mattson worked to bring other community partners to the table. Cook County Higher Education offered to host the training, and the North Shore Health Care Foundation provided a grant to fund the cost for all participants, including breakfast and lunch.  

In all, 31 people were trained. Twelve were certified to assist adults with MHFA, and 19 were certified to assist youth. All are 18 years or older and share a common goal of building up the community’s capacity to support those with mental health needs. 

Many of the newly certified Youth Mental Health First Aiders are school staff members, some from Cook County Independent School District 166 and some from Great Expectations School. Mattson noted how energizing it was to see educators gathered and collaborating outside of their usual school work in support of Cook County students’ mental health.

The participation of these educators is doubly significant because there is a third training available that certifies teens to give MHFA to their peers. When 10 percent of a school’s staff have been trained in Youth MHFA, that school is eligible to integrate Teen MHFA into their curriculum and teach it to a whole grade level. Mattson hopes to explore this possibility further with school leaders.

MHFA training is designed to be a one-time training. But something happened in Cook County that Anderson had not experienced in her time as an instructor. Participants at the Adult MHFA training began to talk about getting together again, to practice skills, support each other through their experiences, and learn more. Mattson agreed to coordinate a regular MHFA working group, and planning is underway. “It’s great to do SHIP work that is solidly grounded in what the community wants,” she concluded. 

SHIP and Cook County Higher Education are working to bring additional MHFA courses to Cook County, coming fall or winter 2023. When the schedule has been finalized, registration will be available at You can also learn more by visiting the Mental Health First Aid website at

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here