Grant to provide funding for mental health first aid training

Feb 3, 2020 | Education and Human Sciences, Faculty/Staff, Giving, Innovation

Young students can now be tested, diagnosed, and treated for mental health problems and substance use disorders thanks to a grant to Louisiana Tech’s Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Department that will fund Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training for more than 160 teachers within the University’s College of Education and for other local educators and administrators.

MHFA serves as a national, evidence-based program that teaches the skills necessary for identifying, understanding, and responding to the signs of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders.

The much-needed training will provide educators with the skills needed to assess children, to support them if they appear to show signs of developing a mental health disorder or substance abuse issue, and to connect them to the appropriate care.

Grant applicant Dr. Ida A. Chauvin, who is an Associate Professor for the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, requested $4,880 to cover the training materials, manuals, and resources necessary for each participant’s training. Upon completion of the training, participants are allowed to keep the manual as a future resource. The grant is funded by the Lagniappe Ladies, a women’s philanthropic network that provides funding for numerous University-wide projects and programs.

Certified MHFA trainers will facilitate each training free of charge, which not only will allow a large number of individuals to be trained at minimal cost, but also will help educators reach their full potential. Each trainer will have received complete certification through the National Council for Behavioral Health. 

Because of scarce public-school funding, area schools could provide neither MHFA training nor the additional resources needed to tackle the problem. But Tech’s proactive stance in securing the grant gives area students most at-risk with these issues a much better chance for health and happiness.

America’s youth have entered a mental health treatment epidemic, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness. Studies show that one in five experience a mental health or substance abuse problem, but not even a third of those with the problem can either access treatment or receive early intervention support.

Suicide serves as the leading cause of death of adolescents ages 15-19, and half of all mental health problems develop by the age of 14.

In Lincoln Parish, 18.4 percent of sixth graders, 25.5 percent of eighth graders, and 26.5 percent of 10th graders scored high enough on the 2014 Louisiana Caring Communities Youth Survey (CCYS) to be considered in need of mental health treatment; each of those percentages is higher than the state average at these grade levels. According to CCYS results, 10.0 percent of sixth graders, 21.8 percent of eighth graders, and 31.1 percent of 10th graders reported that they had considered attempting suicide in the past year.  

Studies show that early detection and treatment of mental health and substance abuse can make a difference in both emotional wellness and academic success. The chance of student success is greatly increased if teachers, administrators, and support staff receive the appropriate training and proper resources when engaging with their students who may be experiencing mental health problems or crises. 

MHFA is an in-person training program that resembles a traditional First Aid or CPR course, but it works through role-playing and simulations. Each course demonstrates how to recognize and respond to warning signs and connect young people to the proper professional, peer, social, and self-help care. 

Participants will learn to support a youth by applying a five-step action plan called ALGEE:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

School personnel can use MHFA as a common language regarding mental wellness and as a means of expanding the network of emotional support beyond existing counseling or social work staff. With MHFA training, participants will learn common warning signs and risk factors of multiple mental health challenges common among youth, including ADD/ADHA, anxiety, depression, disruptive behavior disorders, eating disorders, psychosis, and substance use orders.

Educators and staff who recognize a young person’s lack of focus, bullying behaviors, or failure to turn in assignments could properly assess potential underlying mental health or substance use problems. With proper training in MHFA, schools can quickly identify students experiencing emotional problems, and more efficiently improve coordination with existing mental health supports and resources.

MHFA assists young adults and their families with understanding the commonality and reality of mental health and substance use problems, while encouraging treatable ways of seeking help.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence Based Programs and Practices lists MHFA training as a demonstrated practice that increases knowledge of mental health problems and substance use disorders, increases confidence and likelihood to helping an individual in distress, increases participant mental wellness, and decreases social distance (stigma).