Coaches Get Trained in Mental Health First Aid

Posted by Brent Treash
College and university students have unique stress and risk factors related to the demands of school; balancing academic, social and employment responsibilities while being independent and away from family, friends and other support — often for the first time.

That stress can increase when you add in responsibilities as student-athletes. On May 3, 2018, Emory & Henry College hosted a workshop for all full-time coaches on the topic of mental first aid.

Mental Health First Aid USA is training — like regular First Aid or CPR — designed to give people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The course uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to recognize and respond to the warning signs of specific illnesses.

Statistics show that 75 percent of mental illnesses develop before age 25, making colleges ideal locations for early identification. However, the number one reason students say they do not use mental health resources is lack of knowledge that those resources even exist.

Emory & Henry College students have access to the Powell Resource Center (PRC), a place established to provide a comprehensive support network dedicated to the growth and development of every student. A variety of services including academic success, counseling services, disability support and the Quantitative Literacy Center, are provided for students as they go through their college experience.

“We targeted athletics because when we looked at the data from last year and noticed that athletes were under represented in the students we serve in the PRC,” said Todd Stanley, a certified instructor in Mental Health and First Aid and a counselor in the PRC.

Mental Health First Aid teaches participants a five-step action plan, ALGEE, to support someone developing signs and symptoms of a mental illness or in an emotional crisis:

  1. Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  2. Listen nonjudgmentally
  3. Give reassurance and information
  4. Encourage appropriate professional help
  5. Encourage self-help and other support strategies

Mental Health First Aid for Higher Education is designed with colleges’ and universities’ unique culture and resources in mind. Training students, faculty and others in higher education settings how to recognize the symptoms of emerging mental illnesses or to assist young adults in a mental health crisis can help lessen the severity and impact of mental illnesses.

“One of the big things we want all of our participants to walk away with is noticing skills,” said Stanley. “We want to help train them to have their ears and eyes peeled to recognize warning signs or symptoms early so they can intervene and direct the student for support.”

Stanley said mental first aid is not about treatment it is about noticing something is wrong and being able to reach out. Part of the training tackled the issue of how signs of a mental health problem might present itself in the locker room or on the field.

Upon completion, all coaches received a certification in mental health first aid that is good for three years. The college will be hosting another training later this summer for faculty and staff.

  • Head football coach Curt Newsome listens as Becky Sparger of the Southwest Virginia Mental Health...
    Head football coach Curt Newsome listens as Becky Sparger of the Southwest Virginia Mental Health Institute addresses the crowd.

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