Dr. Timothy Osberg, professor of psychology at Niagara University, has been a longtime advocate of spreading awareness of mental health issues on campus. So, when Niagara University’s Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement hosted a workshop for individuals to become trained mental health first aid instructors as part of a larger effort to increase the mental health literacy of the Niagara County region, he decided to participate.
“I feel that, as we get more and more members of our community trained in recognizing mental health problems and learning how to support someone on their path to getting help, it will also help erode the stigma of mental illness and increase peoples’ willingness to seek help,” he said.
Shannon Stott, NU’s training and development manager, said that the idea of being trained to provide mental health first aid to others interested her because it gives her another way to support employees.
“Employees often come to us when facing difficult situations in either the workplace or their personal lives, which in some cases, can lead to mental health concerns,” she said. “I also saw this as a way to make a positive impact for our campus community.”
And Brittany DePietro, Levesque Institute/IMPACT program manager, took the MFHA instructor training because she wanted to be a part of a cadre of mental health first aid instructors who will be training Niagara University students, faculty, and staff on how to effectively address individuals who are experiencing mental health crises.
“A key piece of the training is identifying national and local resources that can provide the help that these individuals may need to address their mental health issues in a timely manner,” she said. “Instilling this knowledge throughout the campus community will create a culture that removes the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage our students to provide and seek help, if needed.”
Dr. Osberg, Stott, and DePietro were three of the 15 individuals who completed the three-day mental health first aid training course, which was offered in conjunction with Best Self Behavioral Health Inc. and the National Council for Mental Health First Aid, and funded through a grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation. Niagara is one of only a handful of colleges and universities throughout the country providing this training, which is increasingly important as the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression across all populations, including college students.
“This program will enable the university to have trainers on campus who can provide annual workshops for our students, staff, faculty, and to the community,” said Patricia Wrobel, executive director of the Levesque Institute. “It is one of many professional development opportunities the grant funding is providing to enhance the professional competencies of mental health practitioners as well as prepare others to meet the mental health needs of both the NU community and Niagara County.”
More than 300 people participated in the workshops, trainings, and programs that were offered during a campuswide Mental Health Awareness Week in November, which was initiated to help raise awareness of the significant mental health needs on all college campuses and to address those of Niagara University’s students. The events, many of which were open to the public, offered a comprehensive, evidence-based, proactive approach to mental health for students, faculty, staff, multidisciplinary early childhood professionals, and others who want to learn more about supporting those with mental health needs.
“At Niagara, we are committed to the physical, spiritual, and mental health of the whole person. We recognize that for our students, the university living-learning experience is rewarding, enriching, and engaging,” said Rev. James Maher, C.M., Niagara University president. “We also know that this time of transition may be stressful as students navigate new and unknown roles and expectations, and that this academic year has been further complicated by the restrictions and uncertainty imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The events offered during Mental Health Awareness Week helped to support the mental health and well-being of our students and the campus community. We are extremely grateful to the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation for their commitment to the critical needs and issues of mental/behavioral health.”
In addition to the mental health first aid training, other offerings included Gatekeeper - QPR Training and Mental Health First Aid, and webinars on volunteering with Compeer Niagara; managing mental health in the era of COVID-19; an overview of the infant and early childhood mental health and introduction to the New York State Infant (B-5) Mental Health Endorsement; and building resilience in young children. Several provided certification and microcredentials upon completion, and participants included representatives from some of the institute’s community partners, including Empower, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, and Catholic Health, in addition to staff, faculty, and students from NU.
Other activities funded by the grant include the establishment of a satellite clinic location on campus to provide privacy for students to access Niagara University’s Counseling Services’ telehealth options, and the launch of TAO (Therapy Assistance Online) Connect, a free, online self-help tool for students, staff, and faculty. The private, customizable, self-guided program offers educational modules and practice tools that are available around the clock and can be completed through a smartphone, tablet, or computer.