30 UConn students to be certified in Mental Health First Aid

The course includes activities, discussion, videos. The information taught is based on evidence so any false stigma about mental health is corrected, said Valerie English Cooper, the certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor from Mental Health Connecticut who will teach the course. (File/The Daily Campus)

Mental Health Connecticut, Inc. is joining the University of Connecticut’s co-ed pre-health fraternity, Sigma Theta Alpha, to host a Mental Health First Aid Certification course today.

The course will help students and community members recognize a mental health issue and give them the resources to help, said Lisa Iwanicki, a seventh-semester nursing major at UConn and member of Sigma Theta Alpha.

“Being certified in mental health aid will help you recognize a crisis in anyone in your community,” Iwanicki said. “You’ll know what resources you have available and how to reach those resources and how to help the person.”

The training is not so people can diagnose or treat someone who is struggling, Cooper said.

“(The instructors) teach that we should never label or make assumptions because we’re usually wrong,” Cooper said. “We don’t need to draw any clinical conclusions to lend a helping hand.”

Instead, the course will focus on giving people confidence to reach out to those who are struggling, increases awareness of community resources and increases the trainee’s awareness of their own mental health needs, Cooper said.

The course includes activities, discussion, videos. The information taught is based on evidence so any false stigma about mental health is corrected, said Valerie English Cooper, the certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor from Mental Health Connecticut who will teach the course.

The training is managed by the National Council for Behavioral Health, and all instructors are trained by the organization, according to Cooper. This training is evidence-based with regard to raising mental health literacy in communities and on campuses.

A very high majority of mental illness is diagnosed in young adults, Cooper said, so the government is interested in reaching that age group but anyone can attend the course.

“75 percent of mental illness has an onset by age 24,” Cooper said. “But mental illness can occur at any stage of life, so the training is appropriate for everyone. And we have taught people of all ages.”

The courses are free and open to anyone who would like to attend, Cooper said. Signups are on the Mental Health Connecticut website.

“All trainings are free, funded by the substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Project AWARE Community Grant,” Cooper said.

It’s extremely important that people be able to understand and help those who are suffering around them, Cooper said. The training is about building trust and making it easier for those who are suffering to reach out.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know when we need help. Sometimes fear of being judged keeps us from speaking openly,” Cooper said. “Yet people are more likely to seek help when encouraged to do so by people they know and trust.”

The two part course will take place on Nov. 10 and Nov. 17, with another full course offered on Feb. 24, according to Iwanicki.

The timing of the course, Iwanicki said, was important because another certification course will be offered at Mohegan Sun hours before Lady Gaga’s performance on Saturday.

Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation partnered with the National Council for Behavioral Health to train 150,000 people in mental health first aid during her Joanne World Tour, according to Cooper.

Iwanicki said she tried taking a different course session with a friend at a location 40 minutes away from school, but after it was cancelled they reached out to Cooper to bring the class to UConn.

“She was more than happy to help us out,” Iwanicki said.

Even though she is graduating in May, Iwanicki said she hopes to continue bringing the classes to UConn.

“I hope to prepare the next person in line to continue this because we’ve had more and more interest every single time,” Iwanicki said.

It’s important for people suffering from mental health issues to have a good support system that they can reach out to, and the training course helps to create that, Cooper said.

“Healing begins when we feel heard,” Cooper said.


Nicholas Hampton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at nicholas.hampton@uconn.edu.