First-aid training equips anyone to help people who are injured or physically ill. Which raises the question: Could mental-health first-aid training enable anyone to help people with panic attacks, suicidal thoughts or hallucinations?

“I have a lot of friends who struggle with depression and anxiety,” says Agata Jasinska, a nanny and part-time catechism teacher in Chicago. “If there’s any way we can help,” she says, “we should train ourselves.”

Ms. Jasinska was one of 14 people who paid $65 to attend a recent eight-hour class in Chicago offered by Mental Health First Aid, a fast-growing program that trains people to identify, understand and respond to others who are in emotional distress— whether on the job, in community spaces, on the streets, or at home.

Since its introduction in the U.S. a decade ago, Mental Health First Aid, or MHFA, has trained more than one million people across the country. Since 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has provided more than $15 million to state and local education agencies to implement MHFA programming.

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