College Hosts Public Mental Health First Aid Training Session

Abigail Brickler '21, Contributing Writer

“Assess for risk of suicide and harm.”

“Listen nonjudgmentally.”

“Give reassurance and information.”

“Encourage appropriate professional help.”

“Encourage self-help and other support strategies.”

This is the five-step Action Plan for a mental health crisis that course instructor, Lisa Basci, M.A., L.P.C., instilled in the 26 attendees of Dickinson’s second hosting of the Mental Health First Aid USA training. The all-day session took place on March 10th in the Allison Community Room and was organized by Janette Diamond, the Wellness and Staff Development Coordinator from Dickinson’s Human Resource Services department.

Basci, the Director of Peer Support and Mental Health First Aid for the Community Services Group in Sunbury, Pa., has been running this training since February 2009 and spoke to a room full of Dickinson faculty, staff, students, and community members ranging from state police, to physical therapists, to non-profit partners, to representatives from nearby domestic violence services, according to Diamond.

“I think what this training does is that it increases our mental health literacy,” Basci said. “It allows us to have a skill set that we may not have had before.”

The course focuses on the symptoms and/or indications of anxiety, depression, suicide, self-injury, psychosis, schizophrenia, and substance abuse disorders and how individuals can recognize and aid in critical situations involving these mental health issues. Group work and physical demonstrations were used to illustrate various aspects of the presentation.

“(The training) is very valuable and offers the opportunity to remove barriers created by lack of knowledge and understanding,” Diamond said. She spoke passionately about the significance of this program and stated that everyone on campus should experience one of these sessions. “The depth of materials covered allows participants to gain a greater perspective on mental health overall, and builds community and inclusivity by increasing our understanding of neurodiversity amongst the general population in addition to our campus community members,” she said.

Both Basci and Diamond also mentioned stigma reduction as a primary reason behind the importance of Mental Health First Aid.

While this session primarily consisted of adults already in the workforce, some Dickinson students were present as well. “I have a lot of friends that deal with mental illness, and I wanted to be able to help them in whatever way I can,” Erin Heeschen ’22 said. “You can actively help and try to prevent such serious problems and situations from occurring.”

The session was funded by a grant, which eliminated participation fees and any other fees for the college, Diamond added. The first time Dickinson offered the training was in August 2019 to relevant staff members. In the future, Diamond would like to run the training more often, but, because each training session is capped at 30 people, she said more discussions within the campus community are necessary.

According to Basci, 2.3 million people have participated in this program to date. She has been involved in the training of a vast demographic, including law enforcement, resident advisors, faith communities, teachers, and community members.

Anyone who completes the course and passes a 10-question quiz receives a workbook and a certificate valid for three years from Mental Health First Aid USA.