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PROMISE initiative earns national acclaim
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- A health leadership team led by the Mississippi State University Extension Service has received a national award for its work to address mental health challenges in the state’s agricultural community.
Directors of the PROMISE Initiative will receive the Southern Distinguished Team award from Epsilon Sigma Phi, during the organization’s annual national conference in October. PROMISE stands for “PReventing Opioid Misuse in the SouthEast.” Epsilon Sigma Phi is a nationwide organization for Extension professionals.
Led by MSU Extension state health specialist David Buys, the team earned Mental Health First Aid certification before teaching the curriculum to more than 600 people. More than $1 million in awarded competitive grant funding supported the education campaign.
“This multidisciplinary team was funded to deliver prevention-oriented education about opioid drugs in rural communities,” Buys said. “Three in four agricultural producers report mental health concerns, likely affected by weather, debt load and injury risk. The combined stressors can send many farmers looking for relief, which may result in substance misuse such as with opioids. In fact, 75% of farmers indicate having easy access to opioids.
“These trainings were designed to combat mental health problems and equip agents to help people exhibiting signs and symptoms of mental health problems or substance misuse,” he added. “Among those trained were nearly every MSU Extension agent, half of which reported using what they learned in a non-work related scenario.”
To promote the campaign to the public, the group also delivered presentations to 14 local, state, regional and national audiences and worked with the MSU Extension Office of Agricultural Communications and the Social Science Research Center to produce media messaging.
The team included faculty and graduate students from human, health, and animal sciences disciplines at MSU. Along with Buys, the team members are PROMISE project coordinator Mary Nelson Robertson, Extension state family life specialist Alisha Hardman, Extension state dairy specialist Amanda Stone, Extension associate professor Laura Downey, MSU Department of Communication assistant professor Holli Seitz, MSU Extension instructor Ann Sansing and MSU graduate research assistant Je’Kylynn Steen.
“Known as the ‘dream team’ because of their multidisciplinary areas of expertise and their mutual respect, dedication and teamwork, this group has realized extraordinary success in just a year,” Buys said. “Through training nearly all Extension agents on Mental Health First Aid and starting a new conversation about the role of Extension in opioid misuse prevention and mental health promotion, we were able to assist some of our most valued clients -- agricultural producers and their families.”