Riverhead CAP won a five-year grant to provide mental health first-aid training to community organizations. Photo: Adobe Stock

The Riverhead Community Awareness Program has been awarded a five-year federal grant to instruct community organizations on how to identify, understand and respond to child and adult mental health and substance abuse issues.

The program will receive $125,000 per year for five years from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to coordinate an adult and youth mental health first aid training program. CAP will train instructors in the Family Service League, the Riverhead Central School District, Southampton Youth Bureau and the New York National Guard, who will then be able to provide training to individuals and organizations for free, according to a CAP press release.

“Mental Health First Aid gives the tools for beginning the conversation to move beyond the barriers and stigma associated with mental health,” said Sandra Hopkins-Ouedraogo, CAP’s grant coordinator. “Just as CPR helps those without clinical training assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid prepares participants to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis.”

The first adult mental health first aid training was scheduled to occur at the end of March for the Riverhead Police Department. “[Mental health first aid] training will be another valuable tool to help us better serve the Riverhead community,” Police Chief David Hegermiller said in the press release.

Youth mental health first aid training for school staff will occur during the Riverhead Central School District’s superintendent’s conference days, the press release states.

“The district is very excited about this partnership,” said Christine Tona, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “We recognize that many students are in need of support, and this strengthens the other initiatives that the district is implementing.”

A CDC survey published Thursday found symptoms serious mental health concerns — like persistance sadness, hopelessness and suicidal ideation — significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CNN

CAP and its partners will also be providing specialized training modules for veterans, public safety, fire/EMS and individuals or organizations that work with older adults, the press release states. 

Training is available in person/on site, virtually, or in a blended course. For more information, or to schedule a training, contact Sandra Hopkins-Ouedraogo at (631) 727-3722, ext. 104, or [email protected]

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]