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About Mental Health First Aid at Carolina 

by Claire Cusick 

Alicia Freeman joined the School of Social Work in 2022 as coordinator for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program, after serving for four years as program coordinator for alcohol and other drug prevention, mental health awareness, and stigma reduction in UNC Student Wellness.  

Freeman holds two degrees from East Carolina University — a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation studies and a master’s degree in rehabilitation and career counseling, substance abuse counseling and vocational evaluation. She is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and licensed clinical addictions specialist. 

We spoke with Freeman about MHFA at UNC. 

What is Mental Health First Aid? 

Created in Australia in 2001, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an eight-hour training designed to help you develop basic skills to help someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis, respond to substance use disorders, and identify professional resources that can provide additional care. 

Eight hours. How does that work, exactly? 

The curriculum includes two hours of pre-work that you can do on your own time before the training. The training itself is six hours, either online or in person, done over one day (with a 30-minute break for lunch) or two days (in two blocks, three hours each). The capacity for each training is 30 people. 

Who can sign up for training? 

Everyone. Training for the UNC community is supported by a grant, and free to all. You can sign up for yourself, or organize a training for your school or unit. To learn more, visit or email us at

How long is the certification good for? 

Three years. 

How many people at UNC completed the training in 2022–23? 

We conducted 64 trainings at UNC and one for an outside organization, resulting in close to 1,000 new “MHFA-ers” on campus.  

What is the benefit of MHFA? 

MHFA builds mental health literacy, helping the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness or substance use challenges. 

Mental Health First Aiders learn a five-step action plan known as ALGEE that helps them assess risk, respectfully listen to and support the individual in crisis, and identify appropriate professional help and other support. Participants are also introduced to risk factors and warning signs for mental health or substance use problems, engage in experiential activities that build understanding of the impact of illness on individuals and families, and learn about evidence-supported treatment and self-help strategies.