Mental Health First Aid For ACO’s

The National Animal Care & Control Association
is committed to setting the standard of professionalism in animal welfare and public safety through training, networking, and advocacy.

June 8, 2023

Written by NACA



To help equip ACOs to confidently and effectively respond when encountering human mental health challenges, the National Animal Control Association (NACA) is launching a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) national certification course initiative.

Mental health and substance use issues remain elevated in the United States three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 90% of U.S. adults believing that the country is facing a mental health crisisi. As first responders for animal-related concerns in our communities, Animal Control Officers (ACOs) and other animal welfare professionals routinely work in situations in which people are experiencing high levels of stress; high levels of stress are a known contributor to and exacerbator of human mental health challenges. While responding to animal-related issues, ACOs and other animal welfare professionals hence find themselves in de facto first responder role for emergent human mental health challenges.

Just as those certified in CPR enables those without clinical training to assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid certification prepares participants to interact with and effectively support a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) certification training entails a groundbreaking skills-based course that gives the tools to identify, understand and respond to someone who might be struggling with a mental health or substance use challenge — and connect them with appropriate support and resources when necessary.

Through the certification training, Mental Health First Aiders learn about: basic mental health signs and symptoms; the skills need to identify, assess, and provide appropriate support during a mental health crisis; how to link people to needed resources; and the necessity of self-care as a Mental Health First Aider. A five step skills action plan is taught to enable Mental Health First Aiders to easily retain and implement the appropriate skills as needed; the action plan is called ALGEEii:

“Never has it been more important for our communities to talk about mental health and substance use,” says Chuck Ingoglia, President and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, which helped bring Mental Health First Aid to the U.S. from Australia in 2008. “This program is breaking down barriers and stigma so that together we can learn how to better support one another. Without mental health, there is no health.” Mental Health First Aid has become a full-blown movement in the United States — more than 2.5 million people — including first responders, educators, and members of the general public – are certified Mental Health First Aiders, and that number is growing every day.

The Mental Health First Aid national certification courses offered through NACA will be taught by certified Mental Health First Aid instructor Dr. Janet Hoy-Gerlach. Dr. Hoy-Gerlach is a licensed clinical social worker and human-animal interaction researcher with extensive practice experience in community-based crisis intervention work and suicide risk assessment. She is the lead author of Human-Animal Interaction: A Social Work Guide, published by the National Association of Social Work (the largest professional social work organization in the United States), and helps develop programs and policies that support the human-animal bond for mutual wellbeing through her social work consulting practice, OneHealth People-Animal Wellness Services (OHPAWs).

“I am thrilled to be able to partner with NACA to help support ACOs and animal welfare professionals in the critically important work they do for animals and people,” says Dr. Hoy-Gerlach. “Mental Health First Aid certification offers an effective tool to help address the human needs encountered in their life-saving work with animals.”

For more information or to participate in a Mental Health First Aid training through NACA, see: Mental Health First Aid Certification

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