Project AWARE Kent Moves to Raise Awareness of Mental Health First Aid | Kent State University

Project AWARE Kent Moves to Raise Awareness of Mental Health First Aid

Kent State University’s Project AWARE Kent offers a free Mental Health First Aid course to prepare Kent Campus students, faculty and staff to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health crises. The Mental Health First Aid course allows the Kent State community to be a network of responders able to identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness, assist during mental health crises and refer professional services to anyone exhibiting signs of mental distress.

Kim Laurene, project coordinator for Project AWARE Kent, aims to treat people experiencing mental illness in the same manner as people experiencing physical illness, by training students, faculty and staff in mental health first aid.  

“I believe that mental health should be talked about just like physical health is talked about,” Laurene says. “For example, you say ‘that person has cancer,’ so with mental health you should say ‘that person has schizophrenia.’”

Project AWARE Kent is a three-year, mental health first aid program funded by a $357,000 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant through its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to reduce the negative effects and stigmas of mental health and substance-use disorders.

Project AWARE Kent is directed by Deric Kenne, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management in the College of Public Health, and evaluated by Rebecca Fischbein, lecturer of Health Policy and Management in the College of Public Health, in collaboration with the Kent State of Wellness initiative.

"Mental health is one of the eight focus areas of the universitywide Kent State of Wellness initiative, aiming to foster a culture of health throughout the Kent State community,” Laurene says. “Goals of the Kent State of Wellness include increasing awareness, decreasing stigma and improving access to mental health resources on campus."

The facilitators of the Mental Health First Aid course became trained in February 2016, and the course become available to Kent State students, faculty and staff in March 2016.

“We trained 269 people whom we call ‘mental health first aiders,’” Laurene says. “Of the 269 people, 67 percent were students, and 33 percent were faculty or staff.”

Participants learn risk factors, signs and impacts of addiction and mental illness. The course teaches a five-step action plan to assess a situation and help someone suffering from emotional stress.

One of Laurene’s goals of the course is to create an environment of safety for people with mental illness. To reach that goal, Laurene thought it was important for students, faculty and staff to know about mental health service options.

“Participants of the Mental Health First Aid course, who agreed to participate in our evaluation component, receive a monthly survey asking about how many referrals of services offered on and near campus they suggested to someone experiencing emotional distress,” Laurene says. “In 2016, using these monthly follow-ups, we had people record 295 referrals to mental health services.

Of the 295 referrals, the most common come to website or phone hotlines, informational cards or pamphlets and on-campus services.

Students, faculty and staff interested in learning mental health first aid can obtain more information here. Courses for the spring are currently full. However, those interested can sign up to be notified when future courses become available. In addition, groups of 25 to 30 people can contact Laurene to schedule their own group Mental Health First Aid course.

For more information about Project AWARE and the course, call or email Laurene at 330-672-0081 or klaurene@kent.edu.