AJFCS Bringing Mental Health First Aid to PBC
Michael Camberdella, an 18-year-old diagnosed with autism and several mental illnesses that occasionally caused temperamental outbursts, was fatally shot in his home in Boynton Beach on October 4, 2012 by police officers who mistook his behaviors as a genuine threat.
At the time, Michael had been on a waiting list for residential mental-health treatment. His tragic story highlights the dangers people with mental illnesses face when they lack treatment options and the general community is not aware of how to react to certain behaviors.
In Palm Beach County, hopefully that is about to change. Alpert Jewish Family & Children’s Service (AJFCS), a partner agency of Jewish Federation, is bringing a new program to our area called Mental Health First Aid. It's all thanks to a generous grant from the Herbert Bearman Foundation.
The program educates participants about risk factors and warning signs of mental illnesses. In addition, it aims to raise awareness about how best to support people with common symptoms. To date, more than 100,000 people from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have taken the course.
“This important educational effort goes a lot further than emergency intervention,” said Dr. Elaine Rotenberg, Clinical Director at AJFCS. “It will help rid this community of the associated stigma and move more and more people toward recovery.”
The program uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to offer initial help in a mental health crisis and connect people to appropriate care. There is also a focus on the common risk factors and warning signs of specific types of illnesses — anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia.
Staff at Mental Health First Aid, called “First Aiders,” do not take on the role of professionals — they neither diagnose nor provide counseling or therapy. Instead, the program offers concrete tools and answers key questions, like “what do I do?” and “where can someone find help?” when a mental crisis occurs.
“We know [First Aiders] will have a great impact on the mental health communities throughout Palm Beach County, and will be key players in improving mental health literacy nationwide,” said Linda Rosenberg, who works for the organization that first brought Mental Health First Aid to the United States in 2008.
To learn more about this revolutionary program in Palm Beach County, go to