The Canadian Red Cross will be adding new mental health components to its national training programs.

Members of the general public taking existing standard and emergency first aid courses will learn how to recognize signs and symptoms of a developing mental health emergency and how to provide care and comfort to the patient.

First responders will be trained to look beyond physical symptoms and to evaluate a patient's emotional state after an emergency or disaster.

People don't understand the signs and symptoms of mental health, said Rick Caissie, the Canadian Red Cross's director general of prevention and safety.

"It's always kind of been this unknown entity, I guess," he told CBC P.E.I.'s Island Morning Wednesday.

"People having a mental health distress issue should definitely have the same support systems as those suffering from a physical emergency."

Free first aid app

By adding the new modules to first aid training, the organization will be able to reach "a lot of people in this country," said Caissie.

Rick Caissie, Canadian Red Cross, director general prevention and safety

Rick Caissie, Canadian Red Cross's director general prevention and safety, says people suffering mental health emergencies should have the same support as those with physical injuries. (Canadian Red Cross)

According to the Red Cross, it trained 644,000 people nationwide last year, including 35,165 Atlantic Canadians, two-thirds of whom took emergency or standard first aid courses. Going forward, these courses will include the mental health component.

And, starting this fall, some of the mental health information will also be incorporated into the Red Cross's free first aid app.

"It gives you great information, for training purposes, but also for an emergency," said Caissie.

The training will be fully integrated into first aid courses by winter 2017. The training program for first responders will be available across Canada sometime in 2017.

The new Canadian Red Cross programs are funded in part by a $150,000 contribution from Bell through its Bell Let's Talk program.

Wednesday is Bell Let's Talk Day where five cents are donated to mental health initiatives for every text, tweet, mobile, long-distance call and Let's Talk Facebook shares.