Over the past 10 years, Mental Health First Aid has become a full-blown movement in the United States and now boasts half a million Mental Health First Aiders strong and growing every day.

In the wake of Sunday morning’s horrific and senseless violence in the deadliest shooting in our nation’s history in Orlando, Florida, we see why Mental Health First Aid has become a must in our nation.

While we will never know everything about the attack, it seems clear this was an act of hatred against a particular community of people, and in the coming days and weeks much more will be said in the national conversation about gun violence, terrorism and anti-LGBTQ bigotry as this attack occurred in the middle of Pride Month.

Authorities identified the attacker as Omar Mateen, a Port St. Lucie man who was killed by SWAT officers.

Mateen’s ex-wife described her former husband as short-tempered, religious but not radical, bipolar and “mentally unstable.”

Many politicians are quick to jump on the bandwagon blaming guns when such a tragedy occurs, but focus should be placed on the mental instability common denominator found in so many of these mass killings.

In 2016, the National Council for Behavioral Health is making it a priority to train more first aiders than ever before — the vision is to train 1,000,000 Mental Health First Aiders in the U.S. to more easily recognize and respond to mental health needs before tragedy strikes.

Earlier this month teachers from Halifax, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties took time out of their busy schedules and became a part of the these envisioned Mental Health First Aiders when they participated in a Mental Health First Aid Workshop designed to help them better recognize and understand mental health needs of local students.

Southside Community Services Board was responsible for hosting the workshop for teachers, and leading this initiative was Kevin Chandler who works as the behavioral health and wellness specialist at the Southside Community Services Board’s administrative offices in Clarksville.

“This training is especially relevant to all educators and individuals who work in public agencies. This training will provide the awareness and skills to both identify someone with a mental health need and how to help them,” according to Beth Englehorn, director of Behavioral Health for the Southside Community Services Board.

In January the National Council for Behavioral Health announced the new campaign, “Be 1 in a Million,” to train 1 million people in Mental Health First Aid.

Currently more than 500,000 people, from law enforcement officers to educators have been trained in this course that teaches people how to recognize when someone may be experiencing a mental health or substance use problem and encourage them to get help.

“With one in four Americans experiencing a mental health or addition disorder each year, the National Council is committed to making this important training as common as CPR,” said Susan Blue, National Council board chair.

A $1 million commitment from the National Council is being used to fund instructor scholarships with an emphasis on people who have experienced mental illness or substance use problems and their family members; to offer grants to instructors who train those who help America’s most vulnerable, like people who work in homeless shelters and call centers, women’s and family services centers and foster care and child welfare agencies; and to cut the cost of Mental Health First Aid teaching materials in half for 2016 to jumpstart more trainings.

Congress included a $15 million appropriation for Mental Health First Aid in the omnibus spending agreement released in December. This marks the third consecutive year Congress has supported the public education and awareness program with funding that allows communities to offer free courses.

“This training is relevant to all of us,” said Chandler. “When you complete the Mental Health First Aid training, you will know how to intervene with someone who is actively suicidal, or help someone who is having a panic attack. You will be able to support veterans experiencing PTSD symptoms, or a college student with a serious eating disorder. You will be able to recognize a coworker who may be struggling with addiction or a friend who is feeling depressed.”

The National Council urges every American to get trained as part of its “1 in a Million” campaign.

Become “1 in a Million” by getting trained today

Find out more at www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org or by calling Chandler at the Southside Community Services Board at 434-572-6916.

For more information about more of the programs offered by the Southside Community Services Board, visit their website at www.sscsb.org.