BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township is implementing a new training program for municipal employees called Mental Health First Aid, which is intended for all people to learn about mental illness and addiction, including risk factors, warning signs and mental health stigma reduction.

The training began in May, according to a release, in support of Mental Health Awareness Month.

According to the release, employees who come into contact with the public on a daily basis, and who are trained in the program, will have more confidence in working with those who are experiencing a mental health problem or crisis.

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The training will be done by Jennifer Sorensen, the Somerset County Municipal Alliance coordinator. It is two four-hour sessions, with a five-step action plan to help those who are developing a mental health problem or who are in crisis. Employees taking part in the training will receive a three-year certification.

The goal, the release said, is to train all Bridgewater employees, beginning with those who interact with residents most often.

Law enforcement officers in Bridgewater are already being trained annually in responding to people experiencing mental health problems or crises by the Community Law Enforcement Affirmative Relations Continuing Education Institute and the Somerset County Police Academy.

"As a municipality, we want to ensure that anyone in our community experiencing a mental health problem gets the high-quality care that they need," Hayes said in the release. "We want to encourage our residents to seek care, point them to local resources and reduce the stigma associated with having a mental illness."

The program is partially funded by the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and is part of the prevention efforts of the Bridgewater-Raritan Municipal Alliance.