Northern Essex Community College Course Provides Training in Mental Health First Aid

This group graduated from the Mental Health First Aid Program pre-COVID. Since the pandemic, the program has been offered online. (Courtesy photograph.)

Recognizing many college students suffer from anxiety and depression, Northern Essex Community College is working to identify students who are struggling and connect them with help.

In the two years it has been offered at the college, 130 members of the faculty and staff completed the national Mental Health First Aid certification training through the college’s Center for Professional Development. The eight-hour training course teaches how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. After completing the course and two-hours of self-paced work, participants take a test and become certified as Mental Health First Aiders.

“Just as CPR helps those without medical training to assist an individual having a heart attack, MHFA prepares participants to help someone developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Kim Burns, dean of academic innovations and professional development.”

At Northern Essex, the course is taught by Behavioral Science and Human Services Professor Kathleen Bartolini, who transitioned to teaching after a 20-year career as a child and adolescent psychotherapist. The Center for Professional Development offers the course throughout the year.

“As part of this course, we are going to have the hard conversations. You’re going to know what to do next,” Bartolini explained. “I’m not giving out capes, but having this certification, you can identify the problem and know when it’s important to step in.”

Those enrolled in the program grow their knowledge of signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions; are able to identify multiple types of professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental illness or addiction; and increase their confidence in helping an individual in distress.

While the course was offered before the pandemic struck in March of 2020, COVID-19 has become part of the conversation, said Bartolini. “A lot of people have asked how to help students as well as family and friends to manage the anxiety from COVID.”

To learn more, email Bartolini at [email protected] or Sharon McManus, Center for Professional Development, at [email protected].

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