Faculty and staff are taking it upon themselves to promote education about emotional well-being through a new training program, as demand for mental-health resources on campus rises.
To address this, 16 faculty and staff members have become certified in a new Mental Health First Aid program in the past semester. These MHFA trainers will lead sessions designed to help participants recognize mental-illness symptoms and redirect those exhibiting symptoms to campus resources. The program is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Life and the Steps to Leaps initiative.
The training sessions will help “participants learn the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health concern or experiencing a mental health crisis,” according to Purdue’s website.
Beth McCuskey, vice provost for student life, said the program was first implemented in fall 2019.
“We were hearing from our community that people wanted to understand mental health a little deeper,” McCuskey said.
The leaders of the program planned to release the information in Purdue Today, but “before we could even get the word out for the sessions, they were already full,” McCuskey said.
She said the training takes a role-playing based approach, teaching participants through simulations and pretend scenarios. Sessions open to everyone will start in December, end in May and are available to all members of the community, including students.
The 16 faculty and staff went through an application process to be chosen, and the University will possibly increase the number of trainers as the program grows, McCuskey said.
“We tried to balance (the people we chose to be trainers) across campus and have a distribution of faculty and staff. ... People tend to want to go to people they know to get training,” she said.
Michael Gref, an assistant chief flight instructor at Purdue, is one of the newly trained faculty.
He said he was inspired to be a part of the new program because it’s relevant to his profession.
“As a pilot, you can’t have depression, you can’t have anxiety, you can’t be on medication. So a lot of prevention is about making sure we’re identifying it early,” he said. “I was already doing a lot of work on that side, so this really was an opportunity to get more experience with that.”
Gref said he has seen an increased need for mental-health services over time.
“Freshmen coming in now are not having the same problems that freshmen when I went to school were having,” he said.
He said in this new environment, it is important to promote awareness and decrease stigma against mental illness, something the MHFA initiative is working toward.
Gref compared the MHFA training to medical first aid, stressing the importance of being able to provide a support system for those on the verge of a mental health crisis so they can get professional help.
“If someone has a huge laceration or is having a heart attack ... (the goal is) getting them to live long enough to get to the hospital,” he said. “It’s the same thing but for mental health as a whole.”
McCuskey acknowledged changes in mental-health services are needed at Purdue.
“We’ve seen increases in demand for services, there’s no doubt about that,” she said.
McCuskey emphasized current efforts the University makes to meet these demands, including student of concern reports and a mental health awareness week scheduled for spring 2020, which is being sponsored by Purdue Student Government, Purdue Graduate Student Government and the Office for Student Life.
In the future, McCuskey said the leaders of the program would be working with Counseling and Psychological Services at Purdue and the Steps to Leaps initiative to further increase mental-health resources and information. These efforts include plans to explore how to diminish wait times at CAPS, but McCuskey said students would have to “stay tuned” to learn about the details of these changes.
The first of six planned MHFA training sessions is on Dec. 11. Those interested can sign up on Purdue’s website under student support services.
McCuskey said it’s important to “have those conversations and normalize it. ... A lot of this is about the community coming together to take care of each other.”