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May is Mental Health Month: Mental health training offers first aid education
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- To help confront mental health issues facing the nation today, the Mississippi State University Extension Service is offering unique first aid training to all its employees.
MSU Extension is partnering with other organizations to offer Mental Health First Aid, an 8-hour course that gives people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.
Amanda Stone, Extension dairy specialist, was one of the first to complete the training.
“A few years ago, someone confided in me their desire to die by suicide,” Stone said. “I had no idea how to handle this situation, and I let it control my life for a long time and sacrificed a lot of my well-being by putting so much pressure on myself to ‘save’ this person.
“If I had gotten Mental Health First Aid training before this happened, I would have handled it completely differently,” she said. “I think it would have taken less of a toll on me and probably helped that person better also. This training helps prepare us for conversations about a person’s mental well-being and helps tackle the fear of bringing these things up.”
David Buys, Extension health specialist, said rural communities face some broad challenges related to mental health issues, and they need to know about strategies people can use and resources available to them in this battle.
“The evidence behind the Mental Health First Aid program demonstrates that it does build mental health literacy, helping the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness,” Buys said.
Extension has conducted Mental Health First Aid training in Brandon, Grenada and Hattiesburg. Fifteen instructors, including eight Extension agents, have been trained. Additionally, more than 100 Extension agents are trained as frontline Mental Health First Aiders. These trainers are available and eager to offer this resource to others across the state.
The eight modules in the program’s curriculum cover an overview of mental health problems in the U.S., depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis, substance use disorders, eating disorders, first aid for mental health crises and developing an action plan.
A recent poll by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that about two in five rural adults say stress and mental health have become more of a problem in their community in the past five years. The survey also found that while pressures on agriculture are increasing, mental health resources aren’t necessarily keeping up.
Nearly half of farmers and farm workers lack adequate access to therapists or counselors. Even when they have access, there is still a looming social stigma against getting the help they need.
Buys said the growing opioid misuse epidemic is connected to the mental health challenges rural families, farm owners and farm workers face.
Many issues threaten mental health in a farm setting. Some are ongoing, such as financial issues related to running a business based on volatile markets, as well as isolation and the fear of losing the farm. Adding to today’s anxieties are devastating floods in the Delta, wildfires out West and increased economic pressures from tariffs.
Stone works with many dairy farmers living in crisis situations.
“Dairies are going out of business at extremely high rates, and if the process continues, we will completely lose small- to medium-sized farms across the nation,” she said. “To a farmer, losing their farm wrecks their livelihood, but also their identity.
“Many farmers are third, fourth, fifth generation farmers. Farmers in these situations tend to wonder why those generations were able to find ways to make it work during hard times but they can’t,” Stone said. “They feel like they’ve failed themselves, their families, their ancestors and everyone else their farm does business with.”
For more information on the Mental Health First Aid training, contact Buys at 662-325-3060 or visit the PROMISE Initiative at http://extension.msstate.edu/content/contact-the-promise-initiative. Mental Health First Aid training is offered as part of this initiative.