Mental health course aids in national campaign

Tyler Haughn

In an effort to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and cultivate healthy discussion in students, Kent State University Health Services (UHS) hosted a two-day mental health first-aid course April 17 and 24.

The course taught participants about depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance abuse disorders and told participants how to correctly identify when an individual is experiencing a mental health crisis.

Kimberley Laurene, the coordinator of the mental health course, said she hoped the workshop ultimately spread awareness about the signs and symptoms of mental illness.

“The goal is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and also to be able to link people on campus with resources and have people on campus be able to recognize if somebody is experiencing a mental health crisis,” Laurene said.

Laurene said she still believes there is a stigma regarding mental health but is hopeful it will decrease with more education and knowledge.

“The more we (know) about mental illness, (the more) people will be supportive and not make fun of people, think of them as crazy … or any sort of negative ideas that may be out there right now,” Laurene said.

UHS offered the course as a part of the National Council for Behavioral Health’s national campaign to train 1 million Americans in mental health crisis intervention — a goal they just recently reached.

UHS created the mental health first-aid course to reflect a general first-aid kit, helping the participants identify if someone around them is being affected by mental illness, said Deric Kenne, assistant professor of health policy and management.

“After taking the course, you would be better able to recognize if a classmate or student in your dorm were experiencing depression that was more than a short bout of sadness or unhappiness — depression that was severe enough to cause the student significant difficulty,” Kenne said.

Laurene said people came to the workshop because they are genuinely interested in learning more about mental health, they know a family member or a friend who has been affected by mental health issues, or they want to know how to look out for a friend who may be struggling.

Kevin Acierno, manager of information technology for Kent State Ashtabula, said he really liked how open and inviting of an atmosphere the course was.

“I think that is one of the things we need to do as a society — it’s teaching us to reach out, to put the smartphone down and have the face-to-face interaction,” Acierno said.

Mental illness affected Acierno in a personal way. Acierno said his sister struggled with anxiety and once had a panic attack while driving her car, stopping at a red light. Acierno and his two brothers had to help pull her out of the car.

Acierno said after participating in the mental health workshop, he now feels more prepared to handle someone experiencing mental illness.

“Things happen in your life that stick with you,” Acierno said. “That was just a panic attack, but if I could notice some of the other mental illnesses that are there, whether someone is suicidal, schizophrenic, now at least I know the steps to help them.”

Janayia Thompson, a senior psychology major, who attended the workshop, said her mother struggles with clinical depression.

“It’s part of why I wanted to study psychology and see why the mind works the way it does,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she believes the mental health workshop is important for participants to see that mental health spans all aspects of an afflicted individual’s life.

“It explains to you more in depth about mental health,” Thompson said. “It smashes the stigma because you never know how somebody looks who is suffering from mental health issues.”

Tyler Haughn is the student health reporter, contact him at [email protected].