Vital Outreach to the Underserved Deaf Community

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Mental Health First Aid is a Public Campaign related to providing Education about mental health. The goals of the training are teach others to:

  • Grow their knowledge of signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions.
  • Identify multiple types of professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental illness or addiction.
  • Increase their confidence in and likelihood to help an individual in distress.
  • Show increased mental wellness themselves

Chances are you’re told a friend “You’re a real life saver.” For one Milestone staff member, that phrase rings true.

Venita Smith is a day treatment therapist in Milestone’s Deaf Partial Program in Wilkinsburg. Deaf for most of her life, she uses her Social Work degree to enrich the lives of Milestone’s deaf clients with behavioral health issues. When it comes to mental health education and intervention, “the Deaf community is often isolated,” said Venita, via sign language.

Venita is the first certified Mental Health First Aid adult course deaf instructor in the U.S.

Venita Smith conducts Mental Health First Aid training.

Venita Smith conducts Mental Health First Aid training.

After experiencing the suicides of two of her deaf friends, Venita took her professional work to the next level, becoming the first certified Mental Health First Aid adult course deaf instructor in the United States. Mental Health First Aid offers the general population the knowledge and tactics to understand, identify, and respond to individuals undergoing a mental health crisis.

The isolation became all too real to Venita in January, when she was frantically contacted, by her friend’s husband on the West Coast. Ventia met Jane (not her real name) at Gallaudet University in the late 1980s, and the two have been close ever since. Very concerned over his wife’s recent behavioral issues, the husband reached out to Ventia, pleading with her to fly out the next day to intervene. Within a couple days of arriving, Venita could tell that Jane, also a social worker by trade and also deaf, was exhibiting signs of a serious mood disorder. Venita was the one who convinced Jane to get the help she needed.

“She finally agreed because she trusts me,” Venita said.

Jane continues her road to recovery. “I had to be both a friend and a mental health professional. Her husband and children cannot stop thanking me. They tell me I saved her life,” said Venita, “and I am grateful I had that opportunity.”

Along with her work at Milestone, Venita will present Mental Health First Aid training in American Sign Language this June 2015 at a workshop hosted by the Kentucky Association for the Deaf, in Louisville.

For more information about Milestone’s Deaf Partial program, or Mental Health First Aid, call Jennifer Macioce at 412-243-3400, ext. 413, or visit


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