If someone stopped breathing or showed signs of having a heart attack, most people would know how to help. They’d begin administering CPR or call 911. But many of us don’t know how to help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. Integral Care, the Local Mental Health Authority in Travis County, is providing free classes to help educate the community on this important issue.


Tonke Casarez works in maintenance for the City of Austin Housing Authority. As part of his job, he interacts with people every day.


“I really like doing this job, meeting new people, talking to people,” said Mr. Casarez, a Mental Health First Aid Graduate. “I’ve always been a people person. I love to interact and get to know everybody,”


His experiences at work and home prompted Mr. Casarez to take Mental Health First Aid, a one of a kind, nationally-recognized mental health training course, so he could learn how to better support the residents. Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour class that teaches people how to help someone showing the signs of mental illness like depression or anxiety, or experiencing a mental health crisis. The class is offered free to the community in Austin, Round Rock and Georgetown thanks to a generous grant from St. David’s Foundation. A partnership with Bluebonnet Trails Community Services makes it possible to offer classes in Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties.


“We recognize that encountering a mental health crisis leaves many of us wondering how best to respond. St. David’s Foundation is delighted to provide support to Integral Care so that more Central Texans can participate in Mental Health First Aid classes, and gain a better understanding of mental illness, and how to assist those who are affected,” said Kim McPherson, Senior Program Officer for St. David’s Foundation. “I’ve personally taken the class and found it useful in my personal and professional life.”


Since 2009, Integral Care has offered Mental Health First Aid training to over 3,500 people in Austin. With 1 in 5 people experiencing a mental health issue any given year, it’s a great resource for the community. Attendees learn:


  • Warning signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental illness
  • Information on depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis and substance use disorder
  • A 5-step action plan to help someone in crisis or showing signs of mental illness
  • Professional and self-help resource


The goal of Mental Health First Aid is that attendees walk away with a toolbox they can pull from in their daily lives – whether at work, school, home or in the community.


“If they experience a situation where someone might need mental health support, they can use their skills from their Mental Health First Aid experience to support someone facing a mental health crisis or showing early signs of mental illness.” said Tracy Abzug, Practice Manager and Mental Health First Aid instructor at Integral Care.

“I recommend this class for everybody,” said Mr. Casarez. “I think everybody needs to learn that just because a person is acting a certain way, they’re not trying to act that way toward you. It’s just the way their mental state is or what is happening in their life at that time. Taking this class has also impacted my personal life. My son has ADHD and this has helped me recognize when he might be having anxiety or feeling depressed.”


Take a class. Save a life. Strengthen your community. Sign up today. To register for a class, visit bit.ly/MHFATexas. To learn more about Mental Health First Aid and how you can support your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family, visit IntegralCare.org/MHFA.