You can't help someone with a mental illness if you can't recognize an issue in the first place.

A New Jersey organization is getting a federal grant worth $625,000 to expand mental health awareness training among key professions, including school personnel and first responders.

"I think it's so important for everyone to have a baseline knowledge of how to identify folks who might be experiencing a mental health crisis," said Amie Del Sordo, senior vice president of hospital and community services for CarePlus NJ.

The Paramus-based mental health group will use the grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration over the next five years to train more than 1,400 individuals through a handful of already-existing programs in Bergen County.

Among them, a rigorous five-day Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training that pairs mental health professionals with law enforcement and first responders to improve communication among the populations and educate participants on resources for those in crisis.

"Hopefully it'll make for a seamless way to get people help," Del Sordo said.

CarePlus NJ's Mental Health First Aid trainings for responders introduces participants to warning signs of mental health problems in kids, adolescents and adults.

The federal dollars are already at work. CarePlus NJ held a CIT session at the end of September, Del Sordo said.

"Our next 40-hour CIT training is the first week of December," she said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at

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