By: Zahava Fertig  | 

YU Students Receive Mental Health First Aid Training

You are walking down the street. All of a sudden, a seemingly healthy, middle-aged man stumbles in front of you; his legs seem to have given out. He is gasping for breath, his eyes are wide open in fear and he is sweating persistently. He can’t speak, and he’s clutching the left side of his chest. These signs are consistent with a heart attack. But they are also consistent with a panic attack. How do you know the difference?

Everyone knows that when someone requires emergency physical aid you call 911. However, when someone is experiencing a mental illness emergency, who do you call?

On Nov. 17, the YU Counseling Center and the Active Minds Club presidents Hadassah Penn (SCW ‘20,) Shira Levy (SCW ‘20) and Aaron Purow (YC ‘22), invited Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to present a six-hour course to train Yeshiva University students to identify and respond appropriately to a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis. MHFA “is a skill-based training course that teaches participants about mental health and substance-use issues.”

Over the span of the course, the MHFA instructor, named Blerim “Blaire” Cukovic, discussed how to identify if someone is experiencing a mental crisis. He discussed how to approach, ask and observe someone who might be a risk to themselves or to others.

Students learned how to identify signs, symptoms and disorders ranging from major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, self-injury, suicide, panic and trauma attacks, psychosis, schizophrenia and substance abuse disorder.

Cukovic used practical methods to simulate the experiences of various mental illnesses. For example, in order to experience what hallucinations might feel like, participants were asked to try having a normal conversation while someone else was whispering into their ear. One participant remarked, “It was like watching something happen in front of me, but I couldn’t understand what the person who was talking to me was saying.” These short exercises allowed the participants to be more understanding towards experiences of mental health panics.

Cukovic repeatedly emphasized that students who underwent the course are not diagnosticians; they were simply there to learn how they can help in a situation only when desired. 

Another goal of the training was to teach students how to adjust their language when it comes to the discussion of mental illness as it is a sensitive topic. According to Cukovic, the statement that an individual “committed suicide” should be changed to “died by” or “completed” suicide. This adjustment is meant to disassociate suicide from crimes that are “committed.” Cukovic expressed that talking clearly and directly about suicide shows that you take it seriously.

Small adjustments in our speech patterns can change a society that stigmatizes mental illness into one in which people get the help, support and treatment they need and deserve.

Looking back on what she gained from the training, Hadassah Penn, co-president of Active Minds remarked, “The training session reminded me to view other people with compassion. Through the training, I gained some skills to actually help people. It was gratifying to see people who were invested in the program, who stayed the whole time, participating and engaged.”

Editor’s Note: For more information regarding Mental Health First Aid, visit

Photo Caption: Students attended a six-hour course on mental health first aid training. 
Photo Credit: Hadassah Penn