The Collegian
Saturday, September 24, 2022

Mental health courses train community members to respond to crisis

A lounge in the Well-Being Center.
A lounge in the Well-Being Center.

The University of Richmond is offering Mental Health First Aid courses to students, faculty and staff who are seeking certification. 

The program is designed to provide first aid to a person experiencing a mental health crisis before a more qualified official is able to take over. A mental health crisis can be defined in many ways, from a panic attack to showing signs of alcoholism.  

MHFA is analogous to first-aid training for CPR, said Peter LeViness, director of Counseling and Psychological Services. The skills can be applied at any point in life. 

“Most of us will know someone — if not ourselves — that has some kind of mental health disorder,” he said. “It's useful to have some knowledge about what to do.” 

During the training, students will learn risk factors and warning signs of mental health and substance abuse, information on mental illness, a five-step action plan to aid someone experiencing a mental health problem or a crisis as well as professional, peer and self-help resources, according to the website

“Having a person via Mental Health First Aider to check in with folks, help them, provide support, navigate them to the appropriate resources, knowing just how to listen non-judgmentally, knowing how to be there for someone, I think is really important,” Health Educator Marieka Turner said. “Not just in general, but specifically as we're dealing with this pandemic.” 

The course was first taught at UR during fall 2018. Slade Gormus, a nursing supervisor, was among the first three to teach the course. There are currently seven certified MHFA instructors, Turner said. 

The program is currently offered in a hybrid format with a two-hour, self-paced online training course and a six-hour instructor-led portion. As of this semester, students can also enroll in the WELL 101 Mental Health First Aid course, which meets weekly for six sessions and fulfills UR’s general education requirement

The training is mandatory for resident assistants and some peer-education groups, including CAPS interns, Turner said. In the past, there have been athletic teams and Greek life organizations that have registered for training. Each session is capped at 30 trainees, Turner said. 

“It's something very great for peer educators, but also just students who are interested in helping their peers when it comes to mental health challenges and substance misuse issues, which is what the program really goes into and talks about,” Turner said. 

More than 2.5 million people across the United States have been trained in MHFA by over 15,000 instructors, according to the MHFA website. Certification for MHFA lasts three years, but the knowledge that trainees gain from the program is for a lifetime, Gormus said. The training is not just limited to higher education — it is primarily a community program, she said. 

Faculty and staff can register for the next session, which will be held on March 9, and students can register for the next split session, which will be held on April 12 and 14. Trainees must register two weeks before their first session so they have enough time to complete the online portion of the training. 

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“The more people that have the training and the knowledge, and the more that we're all on the same page, the better those folks in our community will be served,” Gormus said, “because we're all speaking the same language.” 

Contact managing co-editor Ryan Hudgins at ryan.hudgins@richmond.edu.

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