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MU to Offer Mental Health First Aid Program to Faculty, Staff

Program will help participants identify and respond appropriately to signs of mental illness.

December 27th, 2011

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— According to the American College Health Association, 28 to 37 percent of college students seriously consider suicide, which is the second leading cause of death of people ages 15 to 24. Of those college students who die by suicide, 80 percent have not accessed counseling services. In an effort to help faculty and staff identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness, the University of Missouri Counseling Center and the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies are sponsoring a Mental Health First Aid program at MU.

“We are thrilled to bring Mental Health First Aid to our community,” said Christy Hutton, a psychologist and coordinator of Outreach & Communications for the MU Counseling Center.  “This important educational effort goes a lot further than emergency intervention; it helps people understand the shroud of fear and misjudgment facing individuals and families who experience mental illnesses and addiction. It will help rid this community of the stigma associated with mental illness.”

The Mental Health First Aid program is a 12-hour training certification course that teaches participants a five-step action plan to assess a situation, select and implement interventions, and secure appropriate care for the individual. The certification program introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems and reviews common treatments. According to Hutton, previous studies have demonstrated that this program is effective in improving trainees’ knowledge of mental disorders, reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, and increasing the amount of help provided to others.

“In my 25 years of clinical work I have seen many people who have endured the symptoms of a mental health problem for years before getting the help they needed,” said Sharon Thomas-Parks, CEO of Abacus Behavioral Consulting and one of the trainers for the course. “Mental illnesses, just like physical illnesses, are common, and they are treatable.”

On average, 45.8 percent of college students and 26 percent of adults experience a diagnosable mental illness each year. Nearly 12 percent of college students experience an anxiety disorder, including social phobias, generalized anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Officials from the Missouri Department of Mental Health, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare worked to bring the program to the United States, adapting the curriculum to American culture and certifying instructors to teach the program throughout the country

The program, which is in its fourth year, is now provided in 48 states. The National Council certified Hutton and Thomas-Parks to provide the Mental Health First Aid program beginning in January 2012. Hutton and Thomas-Parks are trainers on the National Mental Health First Aid training team.

At MU, participants will be able to take the course for free. The Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies will provide funding for all materials and hire an additional trainer from the national training team.

Mental Health First Aid is based at the ORYGEN Research Centre at the University of Melbourne in Australia under the direction of MHFA founders Betty Kitchener and Tony Jorm. To date, the program has been replicated in six other countries, including Hong Kong, Scotland, England, Canada, Finland and Singapore.

The training will be held Jan. 3 – 6. For more information or to participate in the Mental Health First Aid training at MU, call 573-882-6601 or visit or