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Earlier this week, I got to go back to college. Well, just for two days and as an instructor. (A different kind of experience.)

Nicole Gore, Suicide Prevention Coordinator with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, joined me and RACSB Prevention Specialists Sherry Thompson and Sherry Norton-Williams, to teach two concurrent sessions of Mental Health First Aid – Higher Education to 38 new Resident Advisors at the University of Mary Washington.  

Nicole Gore, Suicide Prevention Coordinator, Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, for joining RACSB instructors Sherry Thompson, Sherry Norton-Williams and Michelle Wagaman

These were the 5th and 6th trainings hosted by the University of Mary Washington since the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2017 requiring all Resident Advisors in public universities take the 8-hour Mental Health First Aid training. (Last summer, with help from DBHDS and Fairfax-Falls Church CSB, RACSB coordinated three concurrent trainings for a total of 75 Resident Life Staff. And RACSB provided an additional training this past January.)

Recognizing that college can be a stressful time with new freedoms, responsibilities, experiences and challenges, the 2017 Virginia General Assembly wanted to put additional supports in place to help students. The 2018 Virginia General Assembly has taken this effort further by requiring mental health education in high schools.

This specialized Higher Education module helps Resident Advisors to better recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse. Just as it is difficult to tell the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack, it can be challenging to distinguish what is normal adolescent angst and what may be the onset of a mental health crisis.

Just Like CPR

Mental Health First Aid provides needed education to help reduce stigma and misunderstandings around mental health issues. The course involves a lot of discussion and the ability to role pay through some difficult scenarios.

Mental Health First Aid, like CPR/First Aid, is that initial response to a potential emergency. And, it provides skills we can utilize daily as we interact with those around us.

We also practice asking some difficult questions like “Are you thinking of suicide?” We know people are afraid of that question because once it’s ask, you have to respond and do something. The training gives participants skills around assessing for the risk of suicide or harm, how to listen, how to reassure and provide appropriate resources. The training also helps identify local professional who can help as well as self-help strategies. Mental Health First Aid supports Resident Advisors to do something and help save a life.  

Since beginning to offer the Mental Health First Aid training locally in 2014, RACSB Prevention Services have trained more than 1,200 community members. Trainings held throughout the year are open to interested community members. We’ve also partnered with a number of organizations and local school systems to bring the training directly to their staff. Over the past two summers, we’ve trained nearly 200 teachers, nurses, and counselors with the Spotsylvania and Stafford County Public School systems. This year, we also partnered with the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy to provide the Public Safety module as part of Law Enforcement and Jail Basic Training.

If you’d like to learn more, our next Youth Mental Health First Aid is scheduled for September 12th from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It’s being held at the Rappahannock United Way. (Our next Adult Mental Health First Aid being held in October is already full. We’re working on the schedule for 2019 and will share that closer to the end of the calendar year.) The training is a full 8-hours of curriculum and makes for a long day. A long day of enhancing skills is certainly worth it when you can positively impact the lives of those around you and help prevent a suicide.


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