Extension is training staff in mental health first aid

2020 mental health first aid training schedule

  • March 5: Woodbury County ISU Extension, Sioux City
  • March 26: Lucas County ISU Extension, Chariton
  • April 16: Dubuque County ISU Extension, Dubuque
  • April 30: ISU Extension Outreach Center, Urbandale
  • May 14: Grace United Methodist Church, Spencer
  • May 28: Muscatine County ISU Extension, Muscatine
  • Sept. 10: West Pottawattamie County ISU Extension, Council Bluffs
  • Sept. 24: Cerro Gordo County ISU Extension, Mason City

Whether it's taking research from the classroom to the field or exposing students to an extension career through the Rising Star Internship Program, ISU Extension and Outreach connects with Iowans in many ways.

Extension is helping those going through tough times, particularly in rural communities, by certifying its staff in mental health first aid.

"This doesn't train them to be therapists, but we train them to be more comfortable and confident to engage individuals who may be struggling with distress and to assist them in accessing resources," said David Brown, behavioral health specialist in extension and a mental health first aid instructor.

Filling a need

Extension specialists began teaching mental health first aid to staff in November 2018, expanding sessions across the state in 2019. There will be eight opportunities in 2020 to take the $50, eight-hour workshop.

This year's focus has been on training extension staff at the university and county level.

"Given all the stresses related to the farm economy, we wanted our staff to have additional knowledge in how to interact with distressed people or individuals who may be developing a mental illness," Brown said. "Over the last five or six years, the farm economy hasn't been great, and it's not showing signs of getting much better. The strain on the rural population is getting pretty high, so we felt this was the time to get our staff better prepared."

Brown said the stigma around mental health can be strong in rural communities.

Mental health first aid

The workshop, which has online registration, begins with a discussion of mental health stigma and how that can influence people's interactions. It also covers depression, anxiety, psychosis and providing help to those with a substance use disorder.

The course is interactive and includes videos, learning activities and lectures. Participants who complete the course are certified for three years.

One goal is for participants to become able to recognize symptoms and when a situation may call for intervention.

"We talk about how individuals can intervene and interact in ways that will help those in need to seek resources and other self-help strategies," Brown said.

Brown and extension's three other certified mental health first aid instructors -- program specialist Anthony Santiago, program coordinator Tammy Jacobs and women in agriculture program manager Madeline Schultz -- teach a response plan called ALGEE:

  • Assess for risk of harm, including suicide
  • Listen attentively and respectively
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

"We know that if individuals beginning to develop a mental health illness get appropriate professional help their recovery is so much easier and successful," Brown said, noting a fifth instructor will be added this year.

Program growth

There is one more staff workshop this year, Nov. 7, in Waterloo. The 2020 workshops will be offered in Sioux City, Chariton, Dubuque, Urbandale, Spencer, Muscatine, Council Bluffs and Mason City. The workshop will expand to include advocates for farmers and ranchers.

"It could be a veterinarian or someone at the co-op, someone who is supporting the farmer in their business," said Brown, who noted a fifth instructor will be added.

Brown said extension has done mental health training at various conferences and may look to expand that in the future.