Cherokee Nation Provides Mental Health First Aid Training

Cherokee Nation Sam Hider Health Center Administrator Mike Fisher, Vinita Health Center Assistant Administrator Arrahwanna Leake and Vinita Health Center Dental Assistants Chyenne Livingston and Kaleah Davis work on a puzzle as part of a Mental Health First Aid course at the Vinita Health Center.

Published April 10, 2018

VINITA, OKLAHOMA – Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health is using federal grants to train community law enforcement, youth workers and health officials to effectively handle mental illness.

Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Special Projects Officer Tonya Boone has been a certified instructor since August 2017 and has already led eight classes, including her most recent adult mental health first aid class at the Cherokee Nation Vinita Health Center.

“I am honored to be part of the awareness movement of mental health issues,” Boone said. “I was certified in August of 2017 and have since certified around 150 individuals. The Cherokee Nation is also fortunate to have other instructors who are certified in a variety of the courses.”

More than 20 people from Cherokee Nation Health Services and surrounding health care agencies were involved in the most recent training in Vinita. During the 8-hour course, participants memorized a 5-step action plan and were taught how to identify mental health risk factors, offer support and be effective communicators.

Only about 5,000 instructors nationwide are certified to teach mental health first aid, including six from the Cherokee Nation.

Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Clinic Administrator Joni Lyon said that for her team of certified instructors it is about more than training, it is about making a difference in the lives of those who may be suffering from a mental illness or substance abuse.

“We are invested in providing education and information for our communities regarding mental health and substance abuse,” Lyon said. “Our department acknowledges that Cherokee Nation is not exempt from these types of issues and wants to ensure our communities are provided with appropriate information and education to assist persons seeking services in their community.”

Each of the five courses, funded through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration grant and the Indian Health Service, teach specific risk factors and warning signs of mental illness and how they relate to an emergency situation. Instructors can be certified in any number of the courses and certifications must be renewed every three years.

So far in 2018, the tribe has certified more than 100 participants in mental health first aid and will offer four more classes relating to youth at the Jack Brown Youth Treatment Center in Tahlequah this month.

Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health department offers a variety of services to all federally recognized tribal citizens, including specialized services for women, individual and group therapy for mental health and substance abuse, relapse prevention, children and family treatment and parenting classes. In addition to counseling, the department also handles psychological testing for children and adults. For Cherokee Nation citizens living within the tribe’s jurisdictional boundaries, referral services for substance abuse and psychiatric stabilization are also available.

For more information on mental health first aid training, visit

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