Mental health experts at The University of Toledo are advocating how to recognize mental health issues, how to respond to them and what resources are available to help those in crisis.
The training, offered for free through a federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant, is part of a broader effort at UToledo to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and better support those who need help.
One of the keys to addressing mental health issues is to increase the number of people who feel equipped to step in when they see someone struggling, said Dr. Linda Lewandowski, vice provost for health affairs for interprofessional and community partnerships and dean of the College of Nursing
“Similar to how we wanted to increase CPR training throughout the population in the United States, there is now a big push to teach mental health first aid,” said Lewandowski, who is spearheading the effort. “In some instances, the stakes for mental health first aid are just as high. Knowing how to talk to someone and get them the resources they need could be a lifesaving event.”
The rate of suicide in the United States has been on the rise for years, and experts are concerned the widespread effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate the problem — particularly among younger Americans. An early summer survey last year from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than a quarter of those age 18 to 24 had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days.
But it’s not just suicide that the mental health first aid training is meant to address.
“We want to teach individuals to be able to recognize the symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and other common mental health issues. It could be as simple as noticing someone who is struggling to keep up with their job or schoolwork,” Lewandowski said. “Sometimes people will say ‘I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything.’ This kind of training helps you know what to say and feel more comfortable approaching these situations.”
Faculty, staff, students and community members are encouraged to sign up for one of more than a dozen training sessions through the mental health first aid webpage.
Lewandowski also leads the University’s Mental Health Response Team. This team, made up of more than 20 representatives from all areas of the University that touch on student, faculty and staff mental health, works to better evaluate the campus community’s mental health needs and to improve coordination among the various on-campus resources the University has available.
With the emergence of COVID-19 in the United States early last year, the group has focused on responding to the mental health effects of the pandemic coupled with heightened financial concerns and a year’s worth of protests, political divisiveness and discussions about systematic racism.
“It’s not just COVID-19, it’s the constellation of all of these things that are hitting people and taxing their coping resources at a time when their social support system and usual peer interaction is limited,” Lewandowski said. “We need to ensure we’re doing everything we can to support the needs of our entire community.”
UToledo also is moving to a more coordinated Campus Health Services model designed to provide students, faculty and staff with a comprehensive, integrated health and wellness system where all campus clinical, mental health and counseling, and wellness services are centralized to ensure coordination and adequate support for all members of the campus community