Mental Health Awareness Training (MHAT)

The Challenge

In 2014, CASES opened the Nathaniel Clinic in Central Harlem to provide easily-accessible, community-based outpatient mental health services. The clinic was named for a man whose schizophrenia went undiagnosed and untreated as he cycled in and out of courtrooms and jails and prisons for more than 15 years. The Nathaniel Clinic specializes in serving youth and adults who have a mental health need and who have been impacted by the criminal legal system.  

Currently, more than 40% of individuals detained at Rikers Island jail have a mental health need. Though addressing the intersection of unaddressed mental illness with arrest and incarceration is a central focus of CASES work, there remains significant need to build awareness among community members including nonprofit and government agency staff about how to recognize and respond to mental health needs, especially when these needs are experienced by an individual with a history of criminal legal system involvement.  

Our Approach

In 2018, CASES secured support from the US Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s Mental Health Awareness Training (MHAT) initiative, which was created to:  

  1. Train individuals to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental disorders  
  2. Establish linkages with community-based mental health agencies to refer individuals with the signs or symptoms of mental illness to appropriate services  
  3. Train community members and officials including veterans and law enforcement officers to identify persons with a mental disorder and employ crisis de-escalation techniques  
  4. Educate individuals about resources available in the community for individuals with a mental disorder  

CASES MHAT works to build Harlem community members’ awareness of mental illness, teaching participants to identify, understand, and respond to mental health and substance use issues, to activate help-seeking behavior, and to identify resources accessible in Harlem, including services at the Nathaniel Clinic. This year, CASES will train at least 660 people in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and mental health awareness in Harlem. MHFA trains participants in the skills needed to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis. Peer-reviewed studies¹ show that individuals trained in the program: 

  • Grow their knowledge of signs, symptoms, and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions. 
  • Can identify multiple types of professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental illness or addiction. 
  • Increase their confidence in and likelihood to help an individual in distress. 
  • Show increased mental wellness themselves. 

CASES MHAT program delivers MHFA training in Harlem with a focus on Black and Latino men as well as government agency and nonprofit staff working with individuals who have been impacted by the criminal legal system. MHFA is offered at the Nathaniel Clinic.  


In 2020, CASES has trained 737 people in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)Certified MHFAers trained by CASES this year include 125 Black/Latinx men, 345 criminal legal services staff, and 200 people who live and work in Harlembuilding capacity in the community to respond to and support those with mental health needs. 

I thought the training was excellent, engaging, and very helpful. I really liked that you asked us for suggestions on how to handle certain issues—not only did it keep me engaged but reminded me that I often have the skills already to handle situations involving anxiety. –Investigator, Legal Aid Society

Having received prior training as an NYPD Sergeant, with 25 years of service, and 19.5 years as an Investigator with the Legal Aid Society, I found your seminar to be excellent, very informative to our task as investigators. Thank you. -Investigator, Legal Aid Society

About a year or two ago I inquired about a training for investigators… I felt unsure about interacting with a witness who I knew had a mental health issue, and getting brief insight was helpful, but this particular training went a little more in depth. I think it’s such valuable information to carry into our investigations as we interact with various individuals, but also a moment to reflect on our own lives and how we may or may not have been directly affected by these topics. -Investigator, Legal Aid Society

*COVID-19 Update

To protect CASES staff and clients from the spread of COVID-19, Mental Health Awareness Trainings (MHAT) can now be completed virtually over Zoom. Stephen DeChiaro, LMSW, developed four, one-hour trainings that cover the topics of: depression, anxiety, trauma, and grief/substance use. Get in touch with Stephen at to enroll in his next virtual training.



1. “Research & Evidence Base.” 2013. Mental Health First Aid. October 18, 2013.