When it comes to accidents or physical illness, First Aid training can help minimize the damage and speed up healing time. The University of Rhode Island is taking a similar approach to mental health, adopting Mental Health First Aid training, an eight-hour program that teaches people how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders.
Lindsey Anderson, Ph.D., director of the Psychological Consultation Center at URI, said the program was rolled out over the summer, and by the end of the current semester in December, they expect more than 400 people will have received the training.
Currently, staff and faculty are being trained including housing staff, academic advisors, resident assistants, administrative leadership and many others – but they expect that it will also be offered to undergraduate students in the spring, she said.
Additionally, staff and faculty members from various disciplines on campus were certified to become Mental Health First Aid Instructors.
The goals of Mental Health First Aid are multifold. “One of the primary objectives is to destigmatize the conversation about mental health concerns,” Anderson said. “We want to create a community conversation about mental health … not relegate it to scary depictions on television and social media, when someone has reached a crisis point.”
“The objective is to provide people with a skillset, much like medical First Aid, to know how to respond when a crisis or red flags present themselves” and recognize signs and symptoms of such things as depression or anxiety, as well as more significant concerns like psychosis and substance abuse disorders, Anderson said. “We want to equip them with some basic strategies for opening a conversation and identifying sources of support.”
Mental Health First Aid training includes videos and mock scenarios and provides a step-by-step process to follow, to help people stay calm.
The program uses the acronym ALGEE to outline steps for dealing with a crisis – Assess for risk of suicide or harm; Listen nonjudgmentally; Give reassurance and information; Encourage appropriate professional help; and Encourage self-help and other support strategies.
Anderson said they make it very clear in the training that the training doesn’t make someone a mental health professional. Rather, the training helps individuals learn to recognize when there’s a problem and know who to contact for help.
Anderson said 75 percent of mental health concerns emerge by age 24. The program aims to create a frontline defense and provide students with the support they need to minimize the interference factors the issues can create.
Anderson said those involved in the program have really taken stock of the importance of creating a network on campus, “Familiarizing ourselves and other people with the resources that are available and not letting a lack of resources or communication be the barrier to getting healthy,” she said.
Participants are becoming more keenly aware of the enormity of services available, and also areas where there may be redundancies. “When you realize there are all of these resources, not only are you better able to triage people to the right places, but you are more likely to engage them in ongoing services,” Anderson said, because they are referred to the correct place to begin with, and not being moved from provider to provider.
By Pamela Berard