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Decreasing the Stigma

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Mental Health First Aid Certification Launched at UMD

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If a friend or colleague cuts their finger, most of us know what steps to suggest: apply pressure if it is bleeding, wash the wound, apply an antibiotic, and cover it with a bandage. But if that same person suddenly becomes increasingly withdrawn or has outbursts of rage, a lot of people would admit to not really knowing what to do. That is what Assistant Professor Jill Klingner from the Labovitz School of Business and Economics wants to change.

Klingner, who teaches in the Department of Finance and Management Information Sciences, was recently awarded a UMD Integrated Learning Initiative Grant to organize a program of certification in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). The program, first begun in Australia in 2001, helps the public identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. “My goal is to decrease the stigma of mental illness by increasing our knowledge,” Klingner said.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration website, “College-age adults are especially vulnerable to mental health problems, in part because many mental health issues first emerge in the late teens or early 20s. Overall, an estimated 27 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have diagnosable mental health problems.”

Klingner believes that students, faculty, and staff have a unique vantage point to see when an individual is having mental health issues. “We see students who struggle. We need to be able to help people get early intervention and treatment.”

A Course of Action
The first MHFA certification training at UMD was held in early January. Despite the fact that most students were on break, 16 students attended the training. They came from such areas of study as social work, healthcare, psychology, criminology, and sociology. In addition, five faculty, including Klingner, and seven staff also took part. “We had 15 people on a wait list,” Klingner said.

The 12-hour course was held over two days. Lee Berlinquette, from Lutheran Social Services in Duluth, led the training. Participants were presented with a five-step action plan geared to provide them with the skills, resources, and knowledge to help individuals in crisis obtain appropriate professional, peer, social, and self-help care.

Training focused on increasing understanding and empathy, decreasing myths, and knowing what to do. “We learned how to get people early treatment. We’re first aiders, not crusaders. This is about ordinary life, not about being a therapist,” Klingner said.

At the end of the program, participants completed a survey. “All the attendees said that they’d recommend the training,” Klingner said.

Eve Browning, professor, Department of Psychology, found value in the training. "I enjoyed learning about the external signs of different types of mental health issues and getting practical advice about how to help with each. I feel better prepared to help my students in the event of a mental health crisis," Browning said. She also found a unexpected bonus in Berlinquette's presentation. "The instructor was a fabulous teacher, and I picked up some new teaching techniques from watching her work. She really kept the workshop moving and made it interesting."

Long-Term Plan
Klingner’s goal is to have the MHFA certification offered at least twice a year on an ongoing basis. To make the program more sustainable, she envisions having someone from UMD who is trained as a trainer who could then lead the sessions.

She believes that the certification would be useful not only to faculty and staff but to students who are resident advisors, Bulldog Welcome Week Rock Stars, tutors, and advisors. Certification could also be a plus to students in the job market.

In January, President Obama specifically recommended providing, “Mental Health First Aid” training to help teachers and staff recognize signs of mental illness in young people and refer them to treatment.”

Encouraged by this focus, Klingner would like to see the program made available to people around the region. “I believe it would make communities safer,” she said. 

The next MHFA certification training at UMD will be offered May 22-23, 8:30 am-5 pm. For more information, contact Jill Klingner.

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, February 2013


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