In January, Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 and several other Gambier community members attended a Mental Health and Recovery training session for Licking and Knox Counties centered around mental health first aid in higher education. Following the eight-hour session, Bonham brought it up to the Task Force on Emotional Health and Well-being, indicating that the next step was to bring these ideas to Kenyon, such as by sending a faculty member to be trained as an instructor for other Kenyon faculty.
“[This training] was a fairly intensive time commitment, but it was extremely beneficial and worthwhile,” Bonham said.
Coordinator for Lifetime Fitness and Physical Education Emily Heithaus will do so by attending the training from Feb. 24-28. She will begin holding weekend courses after spring break, with additional courses available in the summer.
“One of the important things to note is that somebody who takes the training [is not] qualified as a mental health professional,” Heithaus said. “The whole idea is to recognize when somebody is struggling, talk with them, be non-judgmental and supportive, and then refer them to the help that then need.”
Run by Tara L. Schultz and M. Kathryn Spergel, who are the clinical and executive directors of the Mental Health and Recovery program, the program aims to combat the stigma against mental health, focusing on issues such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, eating disorders and substance use disorders. At this training, each attendee was given a packet titled “Mental Health First Aid USA” that outlined steps to “identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.” In addition, the course offers a section where one learns a set of steps that are used to assist a person in distress.
This course follows the “ALGEE action plan,” which is a five-step plan that details how one should proceed when helping someone who is dealing with a mental illness. According to the plan, one must “assess the situation, listen non judgmentally, give reassurance, encourage appropriate professional help and encourage self-help and other support strategies.”
If the employee training sessions go well, Bonham expressed interest in opening Heithaus’ course up to students.
“We might just want to tailor it a bit differently to students than faculty and staff,” Bonham said. “I certainly think students could benefit from getting that information and guidance.”
Heithaus is hoping to work this training into the Physical Education and Health Studies curriculum, so that students can take the training course for credit.
“This would provide a structured format, and there’s always going to be time in a person’s day to take that [course], which is important,” Heithaus said.
In addition, Heithaus believes that this change in curriculum will benefit all. “The Health and Counseling Center works so hard and there are so many students who want help and need help, so anything we can do on the front lines to assist them and prevent a true crisis from developing is important,” she said.