In observance of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, some members of the MTSU community are taking advantage of a recently launched opportunity to improve their own literacy of mental health topics.
MTSU’s Center for Health and Human Services launched the Mental Health First Aid project on campus earlier this spring. Thus far the effort has resulted in five workshops over the past two months, providing two-year certifications to almost 100 students, staff and faculty members.
Organizers say 39 additional workshops, including one later this month, will be scheduled on campus by Sept. 30, 2021. Their goal is reaching up to 800 members of the MTSU community. Each workshop lasts eight hours and is provided free to participants.
Training at the workshops includes depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, trauma, nonsuicidal self-harm, psychosis and substance abuse.
Linda Williams, grant coordinator for the project, has spent much of her career in behavioral health, specifically in addiction treatment. She knows firsthand the difference that education and skills training can make, and she says she believes the MHFA is an important part of changing the cultural perception of mental illness.
“Mental Health First Aid has so much potential to raise cultural literacy and reduce stigma around mental illness,” Williams says. “Becoming educated about what is happening when someone presents with symptoms and what can be done to effectively help and support is a game-changing experience for both the first-aider and the person in crisis.”
Williams offers examples of scenarios that frequently occur on or around the Blue Raider campus, such as a roommate experiencing a panic attack before finals, a professor noticing a student seeming distant and apathetic in class, or a food services worker observing a student isolating herself from her peers.
The mental health training offers an “evidence-based curriculum” that trains participants to handle such situations and recognize a range of possibilities that commonly occur as a person experiences symptoms of mental illness.
Funding for the three-year grant was announced last fall and comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CHHS has partnered with MTSU’s Center for Counseling and Testing Services as well as the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services to promote mental health first aid training opportunities.
The grant includes special focus on MTSU’s veterans and their family members, and the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center is participating in an advisory role.
MHFA facilitators have attended a weeklong intensive certification conference and will take an additional module focused specifically on veterans’ needs. Behavioral health providers in Middle Tennessee, who are serving as community partners, have been educated on Mental Health First Aid and have agreed to participate in relevant data collection.
MTSU Academic Advising has committed to send as many of its staff to receive MHFA certification as possible over the next few months. College of Education adviser Bryanna Licciardi says the training is “so incredibly relevant in higher education.”
“As an academic adviser, I work closely with students, and such close relationships mean that they will confide in me,” Licciardi says. “When I see my students in emotional distress, I want to offer help but don’t want to take any missteps.
“Not only did the MHFA provide me with easy-to-remember steps I can take with these students, but they also provided me the necessary context to common disorders, symptoms and resources that I can use in my work with students.”
Through collaborating with the Adams Chair of Excellence in Health Care Services, the Center for Health and Human Services at MTSU supports efforts to initiate and strengthen academic programs in health and human services to support workforce development and promote healthy communities.
For more information about the training grant, contact Williams at 615-494-8685 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the center’s website at www.mtsu.edu/chhs/MentalHealthFirstAid.php. To learn more about Mental Health First Aid, go to www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The information presented in this article was developed in part under grant number 1H79SM081015-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.