SGA, SPARC bring Mental Health First Aid certification to UMD

By Maya Rosenberg

The Student Government Association (SGA) and Scholars Promoting and Revitalizing Care (SPARC) will co-sponsor four different sessions of the Mental Health First Aid training program April 5 through April 13.

According to the Facebook event page “Mental Health First Aid is an eight­-hour national certification course that is designed to teach the layperson the skills to recognize the signs of a mental health or substance use disorder crisis, identify community resources, and link individuals in need of treatment and support to the proper resources.”

The Mental Health First Aid training initiative is intended to inform students with knowledge about different mental health situations, and equip them with the tools necessary to help individuals having mental health crises.

“One of the biggest issues of mental health on campus is that students don’t know what to do to help people struggling with mental health,” junior multi-platform journalism and government and politics major Julianne Heberlein said. “This program will promote mental health across campus, and contribute to an overall healthier campus.”

Heberlein, who is the Director of the Health and Wellness committee in SGA, oversees a 30-person committee dedicated to bringing programs such as this one to UMD. According to Heberlein, this is the first step of a long term vision for mental health training on campus. She hopes to have faculty members trained in mental health first aid, and have training sessions regularly.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 75 percent of individuals with a mental health illness will have had their first “onset” of the disease by the time they reach 25 years old. The college environment contains many stressors that can exacerbate the onset of mental health issues, including academic stress, financial concerns, separation from family and adapting to a new environment. Some of these underlying issues, and the mental health illnesses that they contribute to, might not be easily identifiable to others.

Junior aerospace engineering major Sharon Shallom took the Mental Health First Aid training when it was offered during the Fall 2018 semester. According to Shallom, the most important thing she took away from the training was to never judge a book by its cover and to never judge people based on their outside persona.

The trainings themselves are a mixture of lecture-style teaching, along with activities interspersed throughout the sessions, which test students’ knowledge and application of mental health support tools.

“The experience was very interactive,” Shallom said. “I learned about mental health coping techniques through both lectures and activities, which helped the materials stick and gave me practice in applying them.”

According to sophomore public policy major Colleen Herrmann, the trainings also include information about lesser-known mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and substance abuse disorders.

The program will be run by Amanda Ganoe, who is a suicide prevention coordinator at Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia.

According to Herrmann, SGA and SPARC worked to subsidize the costs of the program and enable students to attend for only $10. The workshops are currently sold out. However, Herrmann, who is the Cambridge Community representative for SGA, hopes to see more students certified on campus, across all different majors and backgrounds.

“The same way it is important to be certified in CPR training, it’s really important to be certified in [Mental Health First Aid] training because you’ll never know when you might use it,” Herrmann said.

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