In a frenzy of exams, essays and classes, students run the risk of neglecting their personal health — whether physical or mental. Since 40 percent of students report feeling depressed to the point that they have trouble functioning, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, recognizing the signs of mental illness can save a life.

“A lot of the mental health problems tend to present themselves in the college-age group,” said college administrative officer Michael Yamauchi-Gleason. “This is a really important time for students to get support around mental health problems.”

To offer support, UC Santa Cruz implemented Mental Health First Aid, an eight-hour interactive course during which participants learn how to approach someone who is developing or currently has a mental health problem. With the completion of the one-day training comes a three-year certification of mental health first aid.

Since its beginning in spring 2011, the program has grown from having one instructor to 10 instructors and has certified over 700 students, staff and faculty members. The class will be offered four times during fall quarter and again in winter and spring quarter. Yamauchi-Gleason said the course will give students the skills and confidence to recognize if someone is developing a mental health problem.

“It does not teach people how to be a counselor or how to diagnose a disorder, but it definitely helps people recognize the warning signs and gives people more confidence in helping approach someone who may be developing a mental health problem,” Yamauchi-Gleason said.

The course also focuses on reducing the stigmas around mental health and understanding mental health in a more positive light, said course instructor and residential education coordinator Linda Hart.

The class covers a five step action plan: assessing for risk of suicide or harm, listening in a nonjudgmental manner, giving reassurance and information, encouraging appropriate professional help and encouraging self-help and other support strategies (ALGEE).

“It doesn’t always have to be a mental health crisis — it can just help you get someone through a tough time,” said Porter College community assistant Madison Holdredge, who took the class last spring. “If it is an emergency situation, it gives you a lot of great tools to have on hand. A lot of people go through first aid training, but not all injuries are external. This is just as important as physical first aid.”

As of this year, all residential assistants are required to take the one-day training. A study was done on campus to assess the effectiveness of the course. Residential assistants from different colleges on campus who had not taken the course were given a series of questions regarding mental health. Another group of residential assistants who had taken the class were given the same set of questions.

While both groups were well-informed about the resources available for mental health problems, the group that had taken the course had more comfort and confidence in talking and approaching mental health issues than those who had not, college administrative officer Yamauchi-Gleason said.

“Believe it or not I still remember the ALGEE acronym,” said Kresge College community assistant Phillip Garbrecht, who also took the course last spring. “I learned that to help people you need to not only listen to them, but remove any judgment you have and figure out what they are going through. I walked away with a higher awareness of how to help people with mental health issues.”

Though the class is required for all residential assistants, the class is open and useful for anyone, Yamauchi-Gleason said.

“It’s also nice to have people from different parts of the community and people from different departments and majors. It really adds a richness to the conversation,” Yamauchi-Gleason said.

The goal is to educate at least 500 people by the end of the school year.

“It’s not about teaching people to intervene. It’s called mental health first aid,” said course instructor Hart. “It’s like taking a first aid class or a CPR class. You are not going to perform heart surgery or put a cast on, but if you can keep the person you are trying to help patient until other help arrives, you can get the person the assistance they need.”

To sign up for the course, email college administrative officer Mike Yamauchi-Gleason at