FAIRFAX, Va. (WUSA) - An unconventional first aid course focused on recognizing and handling the warning signs of mental illness is how one local county is prioritizing this important issue.
Today is the one-month anniversary of the horrific massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. That incident fueled the national debate on gun control and the potential role of mental illness in some of our country's mass shootings.
Andrea McCarren reports that Fairfax County is being proactive-teaching a 12-hour course to recognize the warning signs and risk factors of common mental health disorders.
A simple, but powerful demonstration of what daily life may be like for a schizophrenic.
Leslie Roberts teaches this unconventional course. Mental health first aid is designed to help those whose wounds may be invisible.
Conventional first aid is really treating the external, physical. Airway, breathing, circulation. This is really the internal part of an individual. How they view their world, how they view themselves and the distress they live with every day," said Instructor Leslie Roberts.
"Being a social worker doesn't just stop at work. You're a social worker in every area of your life," said social worker Tianja Grant.
Most of the students here, like Tianja Grant, work for the Fairfax County government, in social services, libraries and schools.
"We're not there to perforn therapy. We're there to try to stabilize and get someone connected to the resources that they need so they're not a danger to themselves or to others around them," said Grant.
They're also learning to dispense hope. Some effective treatments are available.
Fairfax County has already trained about 500 people in mental health first aid, including more than 350 county government employees. This year, the Virginia General Assembly is expected to consider a proposal to fund this kind of training statewide.
Mental health first aid courses are available for anyone who's interested in taking them. For more information, go to