A PA’s Perspective on Mental Health First Aid: Lisa Riley, PA-C

As a healthcare provider, what is your take on the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program? What do you find particularly valuable about the curriculum (as a PA with an existing mental health knowledge base)? 

I love the MHFA and MHFA-Youth programs. It really is a ‘foundation’ program in that you explore ‘A’ to ‘Z’ during the training. To be honest, it makes perfect sense to have this training given the need to ‘know’ your patient. I know when I trained as a PA in the late 80’s, there was nothing like this in my training. As an 8-hour training…it can be a concern when asking professionals to commit that amount of time.

Do you think other PAs and healthcare providers should get involved in MHFA, both in terms of getting certified and serving as instructors? 

I have a bias as I DO AGREE that this is something we should all be trained in. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in this country…2nd cause in college aged youth. I believe a commitment to saving lives is a part of what we all do for a living. MHFA can be part of the answer to saving these lives!

How has MHFA factored into your role as a suicide prevention advocate? 

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has gotten behind the national movement to offer MHFA across the country. My NH Chapter sponsors MHFA-Youth on a regular basis. I took the training a year ago, just because we offer it so often. MHFA has allowed for a conversation in and WITH the community about mental health. This conversation will help us save lives!

Do you have any “success stories” or anecdotes related to MHFA that you could share? 

Every day in my professional role as a PA I use what I learned in MHFA. Being able to listen and ‘HEAR’ what your patient tells you is important. Equally important is what they are unable to say/share for fear of the stigma that often surrounds a mental health condition. Being comfortable with asking open and honest questions about a patient’s mental health is so important. To listen without judgement may be the most powerful tool I have as a provider.


About Lisa Riley, PA-C

Lisa has worked in the medical community as a PA in orthopedics for over 25 years. She brings with her a wealth of knowledge and understanding about health-related issues. Through her work in medicine, she has proven to be a staunch advocate for the rights and care of patients with physical and mental disabilities.

After surviving the suicide loss of her friend and colleague Dr. Rita Leighton in 2004, Lisa worked with a grassroots effort to increase awareness about mental illness and suicide by instituting the “Walk for Rita.” After the first year, Lisa led the transition to make the “Walk for Rita” one of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) top “Out of the Darkness Walks.” The community walks are AFSP’s signature fundraising event.

Lisa has served as a lead executive board officer for AFSP’s Capital Region New York Chapter and more recently as founding member of the New Hampshire Chapter. Lisa has focused on bringing AFSP’s national mission to local action. Aside from serving as the NH Chapter Founding Board Chair she also is a member of National AFSP’s Chapter Leadership Council.