Mental Health First Aid Colorado Happenings

We know, we know. Today is Wednesday, not Monday when you normally see a post from us. But, we could think of no better mid-week pick-me-up than to connect with you through this blog. You’re in need of a quick pick-me-up too? Great, we’re in good company.  Read on for some awesome updates from Tony Barkey. Spoiler alert: he’s included an adorable picture of his dog. This is not a drill, so you should probably keep scrolling.

Hi my name is Tony Barkey and I am the Statewide MHFACO Program Coordinator. You can learn a lot more about me if you click here. Each blog, I will try to share some of our higher level news and upcoming events. This month there are a couple of things that I really want to highlight. First, I would like to shamelessly try to grab your attention with a picture of my dog.


OK focus now. The first thing I wanted to do is promote the Stepping Up for Our Communities Event on Tuesday May 19th. This is a really cool event where we will train over 300 individuals in youth and adult Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). The event takes place at the Arapahoe Community College located at 5900 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton, CO 80120. We have a lineup of great speakers, excellent food and of course the ability to become youth or adult MHFA certified. Oh and did I mention that the event is completely FREE. Not the type of free where you still end up having to buy a book, but really free and we will feed you and send you home with goodies. To register for the adult class, please click here. To register for the youth class please click here. The courses are for anyone that would like to learn more about mental health and substance abuse issues, and both give you an action plan to help yourself or someone else that is going through difficult times. The youth course is meant for adults working primarily with a youth audience. Similarly, the adult course is meant for adults working mostly with adults.

The next big piece of news is the new and improved registration system. Thank you all for your patience as the new system was coming to life. To check it out for yourself and to register for a course just visit On the homepage, you can use the filter in the top left to sort by the type of class (youth or adult), location of your preferred class and a date and time that works best for you. You can also use the arrows in the middle of the page to manually look by month. Finally, there is an ability to click list on the far right and you can view courses in chronological order.

Once you find a class that you are interested in, all you have to do is register. We will ask some basic demographic questions and you will complete a pre-course survey. Both are essential to the bigger picture of MHFACO. We are able to offer the course free of cost through multiple state and federal funding sources. Demographic information helps us know information about who is taking the course and more importantly where we need to do some targeted outreach. Rest assured, your information is secure and we will never share that with anyone else. Even though the course is nationally recognized and evidence based, the survey is still important to continuously build the case that the trainings work. It also helps us create a feedback loop to make constant improvements to the course.

After you complete your registration, you will receive email confirmation. Now all you need to do is come to the course for the day that you signed up and be ready to learn. If you have any questions about registering or anything else please feel free to reach me at


Advocating for Wellness: Understanding the Connection Between Sexual Assault and Mental Health

As you’re stepping into your Friday morning, please take a few minutes to read this incredibly powerful, important and insightful post by Megan Staudenraus, one of our very own Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaisons.

Every 107 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in this country (U.S. Department of Justice, 2013). One in five women will be the victim of a committed or attempted sexually assault in her lifetime. One in five men will experience some form of sexual assault other than rape in his lifetime. (Center for Disease Control, 2010). Given the connection between mental health and sexual assault, these figures translate to an enormous impact on our society’s wellness.

Individuals with a severe mental health diagnosis are at a greater risk for being victims of sexual assault. One study found that 40% of women with a severe-impact mental health diagnosis had experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault (Psychological Medicine, 2014). Furthermore, sexual assault is a risk factor for developing several mental health diagnoses. Survivors face a 50% or greater chance of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Population Reports: Ending Violence Against Women, 2000). PTSD can coincide with very disturbing symptoms, like dissociation, intense flashbacks to the incident, uncontrolled physiological responses, nightmares, sleep loss and increased anxiety. There is strong comorbidity between Substance Abuse disorder and sexual assault related-PTSD. Victims of rape are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 26 times more likely to abuse other illicit substances (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2013). Survivors are also at an increased risk for depression, suicidality, self-harm and other risk-taking behaviors.

The role of meaningful, survivor-focused support cannot be overstated. Perceived positive regard and early social support is integral to survivor recovery and wellness. Whereas victim-blaming, stigma-reinforcing attitudes, and the perpetuation of rape myths have a negative impact on a survivor’s wellness and their development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sexual assault is layered with many psychological and sociological complexities however, and often misunderstood or misrepresented in our culture and in the media. Let’s tackle some of those common misconceptions.

Myth: Sexual assault looks the same; is straightforward; easy to recognize.

Fact: Though often portrayed as violent attacks by strangers in dark alleys, sexual assault can and most often does look much different than that. Acquaintances, friends, partners, and family members commit rape. A weapon or physical struggle is not always involved. Survivors can experience sexual arousal or orgasm during an attack. Survivor use of alcohol or drugs can alter memory of the incident. Consent is not constant or finite, individuals have the right to withdraw their consent at any time during a sexual experience. Furthermore, sexual assault does not always involve penetration. The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This definition is intentionally inclusive of a range of experiences, and is fundamentally based on a lack of consent rather than the sexual experience itself. Framing our common language around assault as such, allows survivors to better identify and understand their experience.

Myth: Sexual assault is about sex.

Fact: Sexual assault is not sex, it is violence. It is not about sex, it is about power, aggression, and control. Perpetrators do not “lack sexual control”. This misconception reinforces victim-blaming attitudes, which wrongly fault the survivor for taking risks or tempting the perpetrator (by being intoxicated and/or flirtatious, agreeing to go out on a date, dressing a certain way, etc.). The vast majority of assailants also do not have a mental health disorder. Individuals with a mental diagnosis are in fact more likely to be the victim of an attack than the perpetrator.

Myth: I don’t know anyone who has been sexually assaulted.

Fact: Sexual assault occurs across classes, age groups, religions, ethnicities, sexes, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, and geographical locations. Statistically speaking, you likely know or have interacted with a survivor. An alarming estimated 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of assault by the age of 18.

Myth: I should convince survivors to report the incident immediately.

Fact: Some survivors indicate that reporting the crime helped them regain a sense of control and justice, and that it was crucial to their healing process. However, reporting the crime and/or completing a rape kit examination can be incredibly re-traumatizing. Many survivors choose not to report. In a support role, that can be incredibly difficult and frustrating to understand. Survivors choose to not report for various reasons though. They may not recognize the instance as rape, may be in a relationship with their assailant, may be unsupported by friends or family, face stigma, negative ramifications or exclusion from their community, or they may fear their assailant knowing their identity. Rather than convincing survivors to do what we think is right, our role is to offer support, and honor their decisions to regain a sense of safety, justice, and wellness.

Survivors have the right to make their own decisions, take their time, change their mind, seek and receive accurate information and meaningful support, to ask questions, and most importantly the right to heal. We can act as advocates for those rights and needs throughout the reporting, examination and/or healing process. Rape Crisis Advocates are also an excellent resource available to help survivors navigate through the healing process. These trained advocates can provide support immediately following an assault, offering important information as the individual decides how to proceed, and advocating for their needs throughout the examination and/or reporting process. Rape Crisis Advocates are also trained to support individuals coping with trauma that occurred in the past.

As with most other mental health-related concerns, recovery and wellness after an assault is possible and likely. Survivors may find professional support to be incredibly helpful, in addition to positive regard and unconditional social support. Trauma-informed interventions are treatments designed specifically to address survivor concerns. These treatments honor a survivor’s need to be informed about, in control of, and hopeful towards their recovery. The potential for comorbid mental health challenges like substance abuse or eating disorders is directly acknowledged. Generally, trauma-informed care also utilizes a collaborative support approach between friends, family and the survivor. Ultimately, the survivor has the right to decide what treatment is right for them.

There are a variety of other options and resources available to survivors. For more information about statistics, treatment options, or for support, please call The National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN) at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected with local resources in your area, or visit

The Colorado Way – A Celebration of George DelGrosso

This Monday at the Be a Lifeline blog is a particularly special one. Why, you may ask? Because today we are honored to feature a story about George DelGrosso, our fearless leader, and to celebrate the remarkable work he does in the behavioral health community of Colorado. Please read below for an incredible post and interview from our very own Rikke Siersbaek!

Tomorrow, Tuesday April 21st, George DelGrosso, CEO of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council (CBHC) and pioneering leader for Mental Health First Aid, will receive the Visionary Leadership Award at the 2015 Annual Conference of the National Council for Behavioral Health. George has dedicated more than 30 years to the mental health field, including the past 15 years at the helm of CBHC, the statewide association representing Colorado’s community mental health system and organizational home for Mental Health First Aid Colorado. Indeed, we have George’s visionary leadership to thank for the prolific growth of Mental Health First Aid in our state, establishing Colorado as a national leader for the program! To celebrate him and his many successes, I recently sat down with George to learn more about his life, his work and what I have come to call the “Colorado Way” in behavioral health.

About the Man

George grew up in rural Colorado and, true to his roots, has always been a hard worker. Whether harvesting sugar beets as a teenager, pouring concrete, or working in the restaurant industry (where he worked his way up to management – a leader even in his early years!), George has done a lot. As a young man, George also served in the United States Air Force and spent formative years stationed in South Korea. But eventually his passion for helping others led him to the field of behavioral health. Beginning his career as a therapist, he moved into program development and finally onto the path to leadership. George served as the Executive Director of the Mental Health Center in Cody, WY before moving to Colorado’s San Luis Valley to take on the Director role there.  Recognizing his impressive acumen, George’s peers at Community Mental Health Centers statewide went on to select him as the CEO of their association, the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council.

A Remarkable Career

Through a career mostly spent in rural settings, George learned the importance of relying on other people and other organizations. As he told me, “the behavioral health field in Colorado is highly collaborative and brings people together where they feel safe in trusting each other and doing business together. Our approach is built on the understanding that we are powerful when working together.” Under George’s leadership, the CBHC membership has grown united in their common interest to improve the lives of Coloradans. They have created a unique “Colorado Way” in their commitment to working on behalf of each other with trust.

Impressive Results

The power of this approach has led to many wonderful accomplishments for the field as a whole in our state. George has led collaborative efforts, in Colorado and nationally, to promote the integration of physical and behavioral health; helped pass countless laws to improve access and funding for mental health and substance use disorders; and championed dedicated funding from the State of Colorado for the expansion of Mental Health First Aid. George’s approach was also absolutely instrumental in making MHFA such a success in our state. In fact, when CBHC first brought Mental Health First Aid to Colorado in 2008, the trust and collaborative spirit among CBHC’s membership allowed us to create the first statewide model for growing MHFA in the nation. This model came to be known as Mental Health First Aid Colorado, with CBHC serving as the central coordination point for its members and partners that have invested heavily in the program and made it their own.

Passion for Mental Health First Aid

Here on the blog, different MHFACO staff members have written about our own passion for MHFA. George is also passionate about the program and adds a valuable perspective to why it is so important. George told me that for years the behavioral health field has been very focused on caring for people who are already very sick. While helping these individuals is important, he had been looking for ways to improve prevention and give tools to family members and friends to help before problems become serious. And with MHFA he found that tool for everyday community members. George is a modest man who was clearly more comfortable talking with me about the amazing brain trust he works with at CBHC and talented individuals throughout the behavioral health community in Colorado than about his own accomplishments. He told me about wonderful mentors throughout his career and the opportunities he has been given to be creative and innovative. When I asked what he does to make CBHC such a great place to work, he said responded that, “No matter where you work and what your role is, you have to treat people how you want to be treated.” George is part of the team – not outside of it – and he emulates it in how he interacts with everyone – the “Colorado Way.” George is committed to the belief that together we know more and can do more than we ever could alone. That is truly visionary leadership.

So, from us at the Mental Health First Aid Colorado team – Congratulations, George! And thank you for your leadership, vision, guts and dedication in bringing MHFA to Colorado. We love working for this mission and we wouldn’t be here without you!

Meet the Team, Part 4: Brian!

Ready for the weekend? Looking for a little afternoon break? We’re with you. And don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Just sit back and relax as we introduce you to the final member of our team, Brian! He’s keeping the overall theme of his blog posts a secret for now, so be sure to add your email to the “Follow” box on the right so you never miss a post.

We have loved sharing our stories with you these past few weeks, but now we want to get to know YOUR story through guest blogging. Still not sure what you’ll write about? No problem, we’ll be patient. And in the meantime, head on over to the Style Guide tab to see what we mean by guest blogging. Spoiler alert: you won’t find “professional writer” anywhere in our list of requirements. (Although if you are a professional writer, we’d love to hear from you too!) For now, take that short afternoon break and learn a little bit about Brian Turner!


Name: Brian Turner

Role: Director

Hometown: Denver

Favorite color: Blue

What brought you to Mental Health First Aid Colorado? I started at the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council (CBHC) back in 2008. CBHC is a membership organization that represents the statewide network of community mental health providers and behavioral health managed care companies. I hadn’t been there long before some of our members started talking about this cool new program called Mental Health First Aid. I remember one Board of Directors meeting in particular where Dr. Carl Clark, CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver, was enthusiastically urging everyone to work together to help grow MHFA across the state. Folks were sold pretty quick and we decided to go all-in on.

George Delgrosso, CBHC’s Chief Executive Officer for the past 15 years, put his visionary mind – and me – to work. What started with him and I just throwing around ideas slowly turned into what we have today – an incredible team at CBHC running the MHFA Colorado initiative with the support of hundreds of partner organizations, 15,000+ certified MHFAiders, and so much more to come.

What is your favorite part about working here? The mission is a given. It’s what drives me every day. But knowing that I’m working with a team of people who share that drive is my favorite part.

Describe a time when you used MHFA or YMHFA strategies: I use ALGEE all the time, but I think the most underrated part of MHFA and YMHFA is the impact it has on us, as MHFAiders, to improve our own lives. I took the course thinking I would learn how to help my friends, family members, peers, etc. The truth is it has probably had a greater effect on my own health than anyone else I’ve connected with. In MHFA we are taught to listen to others non-judgmentally, but how often do we afford ourselves that same consideration? I’ve learned to use MHFA to cut myself some slack. To address how I’m feeling without judgment. To empower myself.

If you could assign a superpower to ALGEE the Koala, what would it be? Laser eyes. I just like the visual.

We want you…to step up for our communities!

May Logo

If you’ve been keeping track, you’re right – we still have one more staff member to introduce. This week though, we’re going to interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posts to bring you an exciting announcement.

If you haven’t heard already, preparations are in full swing for our annual Stepping Up for Our Communities Event – a celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month and Children’s Mental Health Day! We will train over 300 people in Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid in ONE DAY on May 19th. Let that sink in for a minute. Adding over 300 trained advocates for mental health in our communities? Can you imagine the astronomical increase in informed, compassionate conversations we will generate around mental health?

Alright, so once that’s had a chance to set in, you might be wondering – how can I get involved?

Phew. We thought you’d never ask. We want YOU to Step Up For Our Communities! Register to become certified (at no cost to you) in either Adult or Youth Mental Health First Aid by clicking the appropriate link below. Registration is filling up fast and will close on April 30, 2015, so be sure to register today! Also, events like these are always more fun with a friend, so please share the love (and the registration links).

Youth Mental Health First Aid

Adult Mental Health First Aid

When:  Tuesday, May 19, 2015

7:30 am Registration, 8:00 am – 5:30 pm Event

Where:  Arapahoe Community College, 5900 S. Santa Fe Dr., Littleton, CO 80120

We can’t wait to see you there!

Special thanks to our Youth Logo Contest Winner, Dennis H. for the awesome event logo at the top.




This event was developed under the grant 1H79SM061884-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.

Meet the Team, Part 3: Megan and Emily!

Staring out the window at that bright blue sky?  Nursing a bit of a sunburn? Must be Monday after a beautiful weekend in Colorado**. That means that it’s the best time here at Mental Health First Aid Colorado because we can introduce you to two more of our team! This week, we want you to meet Megan and Emily. Megan looks forward to engaging with you through her blog posts on trauma and mental health, and Emily can’t wait to talk with you about mental health and the arts. So go ahead, grab that second cup of coffee and take a break for a few minutes on us. Maybe as you read, you’ll even start thinking about what YOU might want to write about in a guest blog post.

**(If you’re not in Colorado, we’re sorry. It’s a pretty cool place, and you’re always welcome here – please visit soon! Until then, we’re sending good weather vibes your way.)


Name: Megan Staudenraus

Role: Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaison

Hometown: Shelter Island, NY

Favorite color: Purple

What brought you to Mental Health First Aid Colorado? The Mental Health First Aid course and Colorado initiative was unlike anything I’d heard of. After learning more about the MHFA curriculum, the Colorado initiative’s goals, as well as the testimonials about its impact, I knew it was exactly the kind of direct service program that I was interested in getting involved in. The opportunity to initiate and lead conversations around mental health in the community really drew me in. As someone who often thinks in terms of “the big picture,” I saw MHFACO as a leader on the forefront of a broader sociocultural movement to change the way that we view, treat, and respond to mental illness and wanted to contribute to those efforts.

What is your favorite part about working here? The MHFACO team is so wonderful to work with. Everyone is incredibly dedicated to the issue of behavioral health, and so supportive of each other’s visions and goals. Teaching the classes and doing outreach presentations about the course has been exceedingly rewarding as well. Hearing feedback from participants that they feel better informed, more aware, and better able to help themselves or others with a mental health challenge, is such an incredible gift to be able to offer someone. Being an instructor in this program has also opened the door for others in my life to talk more openly about their or their loved ones mental health concerns. I’m truly honored to help start those difficult conversations, and to be able to better support those individuals.

Describe a time when you used MHFA or YMHFA strategies: A friend of mine recently was experiencing some serious medical complications. This person also had a history of mental illness, and the physical symptoms and disorders were eliciting and exacerbating their underlying anxiety and depression symptoms. Through listening, empathizing, and offering reassurance, I was able to help that individual calm down in a moment of panic and anxiety. We even talked through some self-help strategies to mitigate both the distressing physical and psychological symptoms they were experiencing, and also discussed the potential benefits of seeking professional help to better cope with the recent changes.

If you could assign a superpower to ALGEE the Koala, what would it be?  Healing koala bear-hugs!


Name: Emily Haller

Role: Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaison

Hometown: Centennial, CO

Favorite color: Blue

What brought you to Mental Health First Aid Colorado? I took a Mental Health First Aid course as part of an internship during college and was amazed by its ability to start positive conversations about mental health in our communities. I very much wanted to be a part of an organization committed to strengthening those conversations, and saw MHFACO as such a place. I feel so lucky to be a part of this team and to teach Youth Mental Health First Aid, because I think these courses empower both adults and young people to “own” their personal mental health and to validate and accept themselves for exactly who they are.

What is your favorite part about working here? I’d say my favorite thing is witnessing the impact that MHFA and YMHFA courses have in Colorado. I love hearing from instructors, participants, and other organizations about how these courses encourage them to stand up for mental health and to make a difference in their own families, circles, and communities. I also love working with the MHFACO team, who are beyond dedicated to furthering this mission. Also, rumor has it that we observe National Pancake Day, so there’s that too.

Describe a time when you used MHFA or YMHFA strategies: On a few occasions, I’ve needed to “Ask the Question” of whether or not someone was thinking of killing themselves. From my training as a mental health first aider, I knew that I needed to ask, because it’s the only way to know for sure. The course gave me the confidence to know that I could say those words out loud and be ready for any response. More than anything, the YMHFA strategies have encouraged me to be a more compassionate, engaged listener and to be present in each conversation.

If you could assign a superpower to ALGEE the Koala, what would it be? Flying, hands down. It would be SO cool.