Being a Mental Health First Aid Trainer in Northern Arizona

Holly Figueroa serves as Cultural Competency Administrator, Tribal Services, with Steward Health Choice in Flagstaff, Arizona. She is a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor.

Being a Mental Health First Aider is a gift, both personally and professionally. As a Cultural Competency Administrator and a professional who works with tribal communities, I have many contractual requirements that need to be met. Aside from those requirements, there is a pressing issue that requires our attention. There is an elevated level of suicidal ideation and death by suicide that is plaguing both our tribal and non-tribal communities in northern Arizona. Quite often, I am made aware of youth suicide, and it becomes heavy for me at times. It is serious confrontations like these that cause me to reflect about my own children, nieces, nephews, and family members. How can I help young people find the value, hope, and willingness to live? What can I do to help parents, family members, and all the individuals who work with youth, understand the important role that they play in mental health?

A major depressive disorder lasts for at least two weeks and affects a person's ability to work, to carry out usual daily activities, and to have satisfying personal relationships.

A major depressive disorder lasts for at least two weeks and affects a person's ability to work, to carry out usual daily activities, and to have satisfying personal relationships.

It is rewarding to know that I have trained 250 individuals thus far in Adult Mental Health First Aid. This includes a spectrum of agencies and groups from tribal human rights agencies to local community members. As well, I have recently been certified to facilitate Youth Mental Health First Aid, and I am raring to go! In my experience, there have been many challenges and rewards that come with this role. For example, it is sometimes difficult to review my class evaluations, but it helps me to improve my delivery and message. On the other hand, it is always rewarding to encounter the different individuals who are taking the initiative to learn about mental health.

Teaching others about Mental Health First Aid is not a job, it is an opportunity: an opportunity to help people help others who are experiencing a mental health crisis. It is also an opportunity to help people build their “noticing skills” by using the ALGEE Action Plan. This reduces the stigma that is associated with mental health, while also sending a message of hope of recovery. When we begin to see people as people and not define them by their mental health diagnosis, then we can help pave the path to wellness.

My goal is to empower friends, family members, professionals, and communities in being able to help others who may be experiencing hopelessness, loneliness, or suicidal ideation, by being a person that can confidently intervene and guide that individual to the appropriate professional help.

I realize that there is still work to be done, and it is very apparent that there is a huge need to help people understand what good mental health looks like. It is important to understand that feelings and emotions are natural, and to recognize when they become disruptive to work, school, relationships, and daily activities. Fortunately, some individuals and organizations are beginning to take action. For instance, Northern Arizona Healthcare Foundation has fundraising efforts in place to train more Northern Arizona Healthcare employees on becoming instructors of the course. In this way, we will have more experts leading the change to a more mentally healthy northern Arizona.

I hope that in doing this work, I can continue to help others find value in the importance of mental health. Mental Health First Aiders can be anyone and vary from teachers, first responders, and veterans to neighbors, parents, and friends, and they all have one goal in common: to make their community healthier, happier, and safer. Mental Health First Aid is an opportunity, so take advantage of it and be the difference.

To learn more about the variety of free Mental Health First Aid courses available to you, visit

To learn about how you can help with funding support for Mental Health First Aid training and behavioral health initiatives in northern Arizona, please call Matt Eckhoff at 928.773.2426, send email to, or visit

Sandra KowalskiComment