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Mental health first-aid training supports university initiative to aid students

Indiana University staff and faculty received instruction to become mental health first-aid instructors, and will share their knowledge w... Indiana University staff and faculty received instruction to become mental health first-aid instructors, and will share their knowledge with staff, faculty and students through upcoming sessions across the state. Photo by Nadia Hasan, Office of the Chief Health Officer

Nearly a dozen Indiana University faculty and staff statewide who have been trained as mental health first-aid instructors will share their knowledge to build a safety net of support for students.

The training is part of IU’s Student Mental Health Initiative, which launched in 2021 to address the growing number of college students facing mental health challenges.

Eleven faculty and staff representing six IU locations — Bloomington, Indianapolis, East, Southeast, Kokomo and Columbus — received three days of instruction in early August in Indianapolis. The Office of the Chief Health Officer funded the training, and the National Council for Mental Wellbeing provided the instruction.

“The true strength of a community is measured by how it supports its most vulnerable,” IU Chief Health Officer Aaron Carroll said. “Our mental health first-aid training is a pivotal part of our Student Mental Health Initiative, aimed at nurturing a culture of understanding and bolstering our services and support. Through this initiative, we’re setting a gold standard in campus mental health, demonstrating that every member of our university is a beacon of support and has an expansive network around them.”

The purpose of the training was to teach faculty and staff how to provide initial aid, not how to solve problems like clinical providers, said Nadia Hasan, program manager for the Office of the Chief Health Officer. Participants learned how to identify students who need mental health support. Warning signs could include mood changes or abnormal behavior, such as doing something out of character. Participants also learned how to talk to students and how to connect them to the proper mental health resources.

Staff and faculty were chosen through recommendations and their ability to meet the criteria:

  • Enthusiastic about mental health.
  • Available for training.
  • Comfortable speaking to groups.
  • Committed to conducting at least three training sessions during the school year.

Faculty, staff and students who would like to receive mental health first-aid training can check online for the instructors’ schedule of sessions and pick one that works best for them. Participants will be able to complete the training in one session.

Brittany Snyder, assistant director of outreach and community service for IUPUI Counseling and Psychological Services, said she was eager to become a mental health first-aid instructor when asked if she was interested.

“I was really excited about the opportunity,” she said. “The program deals not only with students, but also faculty and staff who want to know how to support students.”

Snyder was unlike some of the other participants in that she is a licensed therapist who provides counseling to students. But she said that becoming a mental health first-aid trainer gives her the opportunity to give back to the campus community and contribute to creating a culture of care.

The training was perfect timing, Snyder added, because September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students across the nation. She also noted that the U.S. surgeon general highlighted a link between isolation and loneliness, and how that is connected to mental health challenges.

Snyder said she’s looking forward to sharing the mental health first-aid knowledge she’s gained.

“It’s a great opportunity to implement what we say we are doing: creating a culture of care for students, faculty and staff,” Snyder said.

Kirk Johannesen is a communications consultant in the Office of the Vice President of Communications and Marketing.