Mental Health First Aid: Helping Ohio State Help Ohioans

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – If someone were having a panic attack, delusions, suicidal thoughts or an overdose from alcohol or drugs in front of you, would you know what to do?

Ohio State University Extension professionals will soon be trained in how to identify and handle such situations.

Mental Health First Aid, offered by the National Council for Behavioral Health, is being offered to OSU Extension staff statewide. The goal is to help people gain the skills needed to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance/opioid abuse challenges and crises.

OSU Extension professionals are in all 88 Ohio counties, making it invaluable to arm them with the ability to respond to a mental health or substance abuse crisis, said Roger Rennekamp, director of OSU Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

Mental Health First Aid trains people to detect the early warning signs of a mental health crisis, including training them to know when to make referrals for resources to help, Rennekamp said.

“We aren’t doctors,” he said. “Mental health training doesn’t mean that we will diagnose anyone.

“The training is designed to help agency professionals and community members spot warning signs of mental illnesses and make appropriate referrals for assistance. It just provides us with helpful ways to respond to a mental health or opioid crisis, including how and when to offer help and where to go for assistance.”

More community-based organizations like OSU Extension are now taking part in mental health training across the country. Already, more than 1 million people nationwide have undergone the National Council for Behavioral Health’s Mental Health First Aid training.

Everyone from nurses and leaders in faith communities, to teachers and emergency medical technicians, to faculty and staff at colleges and universities, to correction officers and police officers have undergone the training, according to Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

“We believe every American could benefit from this training, and we vow to work hard to spread the word until Mental Health First Aid is as common as CPR,” she said in a written statement.

For OSU Extension staff, Mental Health First Aid certification is a natural outgrowth of the organizations’ land-grant mission to provide outreach and education for Ohioans.

“OSU Extension’s broad range of programs and activities has the ability to reach many different individuals, groups and organizations statewide,” Rennekamp said, noting that OSU Extension is a “conduit from the community to the broader expertise of the university.”

“With an office located in every county, OSU Extension is uniquely positioned to address the relationship between mental health disorders and the prevention of opioid abuse in Ohio.”

Recent statistics underscore the growing problem statewide:

  • Ohio is considered “ground zero” for the opioid epidemic. There were 3,050 deaths due to opioids in 2015, ranking Ohio number one in the nation.
  • In 2015, Ohio emergency management services personnel administered 19,782 doses of naloxone, the opiate reversal drug. That accounts for 7,207 more doses than in 2013.
  • According to a resolution adopted May 9 by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, one-third of children between the ages of 8 and 18 are facing a mental illness. Based on Franklin County census data, there are approximately 75,000 children in that county alone that are struggling with mental illness. Yet, only half of children needing mental health treatment are receiving care.

Mental Health First Aid certification includes two courses: adult Mental Health First Aid and youth Mental Health First Aid, said Jami Dellifield, an OSU Extension educator who has undergone the certification and is now a certified instructor in both courses. She is also helping to organize more training opportunities across the state.

The adult course offers insight into several mental health disorders: depression, anxiety/trauma, psychosis and psychotic disorders, substance abuse disorders, and self-injury. In addition to the mental health disorders covered by the adult course, the youth course includes insight into adolescent development and mental health, Dellifield said.

The certification includes the ALGEE method, a five-step, triage-style response plan for nonprofessionals. It teaches people to assess for risk of suicide or harm; listen nonjudgmentally; give reassurance and information; encourage appropriate professional help; and encourage self-help and other support strategies.

“Its like CPR, a basic first aid class to learn how to help someone experiencing a mental health problem or substance abuse crisis,” she said. “We know what to do if we see someone having an asthma attack – we call 911. But if we see someone having an anxiety attack or a mental health issue, we don’t know what to do or may not want to step in.

“This training teaches you how to stand in the gap until the appropriate help can arrive.”

The training for OSU Extension faculty and staff is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rennekamp said.

“This training will help our Extension staff spot signs of mental illness or opioid abuse early,” he said. “Everyone has bad days, but prolonged and severe symptoms may be signs of a mental health disorder.

“Unfortunately, there is an unfair stigma placed on mental illness. It should be treated as an illness rather than a character issue.

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Roger Rennekamp

Jami Dellifield