Mental Health First Aid administered at Storrs campus

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USG and CMHS offer guidance for those dealing with mental health issues. (Yuanyuan Cao/The Daily Campus)

USG and CMHS offer guidance for those dealing with mental health issues. (Yuanyuan Cao/The Daily Campus)

In partner with Mental Health Connecticut, Undergraduate Student Government student services committee hosted a mental health first aid certification training on Saturday Nov. 10.

Community educator from Mental Health Connecticut, Valerie English-Cooper, came to the University of Connecticut to help conduct the training of 30 students.

“It’s an eight-hour course that teaches students how to look out for risk factors and symptoms of different mental health issues,” Derek Pan, chairman of the student services committee, said.

The certification included multiple lectures on mental health and videos informing the participants on signs and how to take action when someone’s behavior mirrors the behaviors of someone with a mental illness, Pan said.

“We also had role playing activities where someone has a script and you’re just trying to approach them and practicing active listening skills and simulating how you might respond to someone with different mental illnesses,” Pan said.

Peer support has been proven to be highly effective in tackling mental health issues, since students are more likely to approach a peer, friend or family member with personal issues before a stranger or counselor, Pan said.

“The training is important because it increases help seeking behaviors,” Pan said. “So by training the average person with mental health first aid certification skills, they’re able to take it out to any influences they have with friend groups or family and help people in their own niches in society.”

In order to bolster informal peer support on campus, USG student services have made the certification trainings an initiative that they hope to host more frequently in the future.

“About 80 people signed up for the class but we can only host 30, so we are hoping to offer more classes due to popular demand,” Pan said.

For those who were able to attend, the lectures and interactive activities increased their knowledge on mental health Pan said.

“There are some people I know who gave in to suicide and I wanted to be a person who can identify the signs and help people who are in that situation,” Sayeda Peerzade, a fifth-semester biomedical engineering major, said.

The training sessions were engaging and interactive so students could practice the skills they were being taught, Peerzade said.

“The instructor really gave us a good perspective on mental health, she removed any stigmas we had about it and she gave us a lot of information on how to approach problems and who to contact and what to do,” Peerzade said.

Peerzade said she learned the important skill of approaching a friend in need and knowing what questions to ask, as well as how to deescalate a situation.

“[The] biggest thing I took away was not to be afraid to ask if someone is having suicidal thoughts, because I always thought that was something you should avoid since it is kind of touchy and you don’t want to put that thought in their mind,” Peerzade said. “But she [English-Cooper] said if you see someone going down that path don’t be afraid to ask, they won’t be afraid to talk about it if you’re front up with them.”

English-Cooper taught skills that can be used with any person who shows signs of mental illness or chooses to disclose their struggles, Peerzade said.

“Before the training I didn’t know how to approach someone or what I would talk about or what I should do so,” Peerzade said. “It was something important not only for me but for anyone, because you never know when you might be that person who could help someone in their time of need.”


Naiela suleiman is a campus correspondent for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at naiela.suleiman@uconn.edu.

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