Free course teaches Routt County community how to respond to mental health crises

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Just as heart attacks don’t usually hit at the moment a doctor is looking over you in the emergency room, mental health problems and crises often happen when a person is not seeing a mental health professional.

If you go

What: Adult Mental Health First Aid certification class
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27
Where: Second-floor community room in Mountain Valley Bank, 2201 Curve Plaza
Cost: Free

What: Youth Mental Health First Aid certification class
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14
Where: Room 215, Colorado Mountain College Academic Center, 1275 Crawford Ave.
Cost: Free

Courses explore signs, symptoms and responses to common mental problems. To sign up, find more information and see other upcoming Mental Health First Aid classes, Contact Valentino by email at for more information on Mental Health First Aid courses and private trainings.

To help community members learn how to respond to crises and look out for signs of mental health problems, Sarah Valentino leads daylong courses certifying people in Mental Health First Aid. Valentino, a regional behavioral health educator at Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership, uses early responses to a heart attack as an example of how the class can prepare you to respond to signs and symptoms of mental health problems.

“What’s really helpful in our society for saving lives is teaching people how to do CPR or teaching people to use AEDs out in the community, so that when something does happen, those people know what to do. They know where to turn to for help,” she said. “This class functions much in the same way as a CPR class.”

Valentino said Mental Health First Aid empowers the community to recognize signs of problems, reach out and give people resources to turn to if they need help.

Her next class will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 27, at Mountain Valley Bank. Anybody age 18 or older can sign up for the free course. It requires no background in mental health. Valentino said the only prerequisite is being human.

“It’s eight hours. People think that sounds like a really long time, but most people who leave the class end up feeling like, ‘Wow we could’ve done three days of this, and I still feel like I wouldn’t have learned everything I wanted to learn.’”

In December, Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership will offer a course targeted at learning Mental Health First Aid issues specific to caring for young people age 11 to 25.

Valentino can also lead a free, private training for businesses and organizations, as long as ten people are interested in participating. She’s taught Mental Health First Aid to county departments, multiple ski resorts, school districts, law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations.

It’s especially important in Northwest Colorado, where Valentino said about 1 in 10 people struggle with a substance use disorder annually.

“We have very high suicide rates here,” she said. “We have very high substance use rates, very high alcohol use rates, all of which ties into why this class is important, not just in general, but especially for our region.”

Routt, Moffat, Jackson, Grand and Rio Blanco counties have a combined average suicide rate of 25 deaths per 100,000 people, which is higher than the statewide average of 20.5, according to data from the Colorado Health Institute, a non-partisan public health research organization. Overall, the Rocky Mountain states have the highest suicide rates in the nation.

Valentino said in rural areas, it’s common to have high rates of mental health problems, but people don’t talk about it.

She said Mental Health First Aid is “a good class for getting people talking about them, for getting people a little more comfortable with how to respond to somebody who might be in crisis or who might be early in the stages of a mental health problem.”

The class explores signs, symptoms and causes of common problems like depression, anxiety, suicide, psychosis, panic attacks, substance use and self-harm. Through a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership has offered both adult and youth Mental Health First Aid training to groups in Routt, Moffat, Grand, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties. Those who complete the 8-hour course will be certified through Mental Health First Aid, a program coordinated by the National Council for Behavioral Health and Missouri Department of Mental Health.

To sign up for Tuesday’s class visit You can also contact Valentino by email at to get more information on this class or private training.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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