When it comes to mental health, most people are not trained in how to respond to situations that are crisis or non-crisis situations. Mental health concerns across Arkansas and the United States are at an all-time high.
This growing need for mental health services coupled with an all-time shortage of providers, resources, and transportation has created a huge unmet need in both rural and urban communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives, and 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.
The Arkansas Rural Health Partnership is trying to fill the gap by teaching people across the state about Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).
Mental Health First Aid is an international evidence-based program that prepares participants to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis.
Participants learn to identify, understand and respond to the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges with a five-step action plan. According to Amanda Kuttenkuler, Senior Director of Programs for the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, “this internationally recognized, evidence-based program takes the guesswork out of how to respond to someone experiencing a mental health challenge.”
Like traditional first aid, Mental Health First Aid gives participants the tools they need to feel confident responding to a difficult situation. Mental Health First Aid is about getting the person experiencing a mental health challenge the help they need. This could be directing them towards self-help, encouraging professional help or getting immediate help. The program covers both crisis and non-crisis situations.
Mental health challenges and substance use challenges often go hand in hand, so Mental Health First Aid also includes substance abuse challenges in their curriculum.
“Substance use problems are so pervasive in our communities and our schools that we really can’t address one without the other,” according to Kuttenkuler.
Kuttenkuler, who has been with the partnership for three years, was recently named the top mental health first aid instructor for the state of Arkansas. Kuttenkuler trained over 580 people last year across Arkansas.
“For me it’s about meeting people where they are and changing their perspective on mental health. I have been blessed to share this program with many people from all over this state and every time the response is the same “why didn’t we do this sooner?” I love meeting new people and sharing this program with them. My favorite thing is to listen to stories
where the training made a real difference to a situation. When you see the words and ideas you give people turn into actions that help someone, that’s how you know you’re making a difference.”
After a recent training session at a local high school, participants decided to create an anonymous way for students, parents and teachers to anonymously report a mental health incident. Within six months, the line had been used over 130 times by students with 16 of them experiencing non-suicidal self-harm or suicidal thoughts and ideas. The school district was able to provide these students with immediate assistance.
ARHP has also trained health care professionals, educators and civic groups across the state. One of the latest groups to be taught by ARHP is the entire athletics staff at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, where their entire coaching and director staff was trained in Mental Health First Aid.
Arkansas Rural Health Partnership is a nonprofit organization that includes 15 rural hospitals, two community health centers and two university medical schools, including Magnolia Regional Medical Center.
The partnership recognized the need to address mental and behavioral health when their respective communities expressed the need in 2019 during community health needs assessments conducted throughout southern Arkansas.
“We hope that we will be able to provide mental health first aid to as many teachers, students, community members, church leaders, health care providers and emergency responders as possible,” said Mellie Bridewell, President and Founder of Rural Health in Arkansas. Partnership.