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MTSU launches Mental Health First Aid certification project on campus

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. Organizers say 39 additional workshops, including one later this month, will be scheduled on campus by Sept. 30, 2021, with a goal of reaching up to 800 members of the MTSU community. Each workshop lasts eight hours and is provided free of charge to participants. Training included: depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, trauma, non-suicidal self-harm, psychosis and substance abuse.

Linda Williams, grant coordinator for the project, has spent much of her career in behavioral health and specifically, addiction treatment. She knows firsthand the difference that education and skills training can make and believes 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 said. “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 noted 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; a food services worker noticing a student isolating from her peers.

The mental health training offers an “evidence-based curriculum” that trains participants to know how to handle such situations and a range of possibilities that commonly occur as a person experiences symptoms of mental illness.

Funding for the three-year grant 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, with the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center participating in an advisory role to the grant.

MHFA facilitators have attended a one-week intensive certification conference and will take an additional module focused specifically veterans’ needs. Local behavioral health providers in the Middle Tennessee area also serve 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 said 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 said. “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 collaboration 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 training grant, contact Linda D. Williams at 615-494-8685 or lindad.williams@mtsu.edu or visit the center’s website at https://www.mtsu.edu/chhs/MentalHealthFirstAid.php. To learn more about Mental Health First Aid, go to https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/.

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