Mental health training taught to students

One in five U.S. adults will experience a mental illness each year, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-14 (Mental Health By the Numbers NAMI). With millions of people affected by mental illness each year, Joliet Junior College has started implementing an in-person certification class to help raise awareness of this widespread issue. Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) are a direct line in helping aid people experiencing challenging feelings or thoughts that make it difficult for them to get through their day-today tasks and engagement with others. People certified in MHFA are there to help aid someone experiencing a mental health problem by listening non-judgmentally, equipping them with the resources and tools they need to achieve professional help, or giving them a safe environment to decompress in. The first class of certification was held at JJC on Sept. 30, 2022. It was led by Michael Liacone who serves as case management and coordinator for JJC’s Health and Wellness department, and Heidi Stukel who is a student wellness advocate, and provides support and counseling for students at JJC on the main and Romeoville campuses. During the certification, there was diversity among the attendees, one being Brittany Valach, a professor of nursing at JJC. When asked about what prompted Valach to want to be certified as a MHFA she recounted: “When I saw the posting for this I said yes, I really wanted to do this.” Valach said. “This is super relevant to what I do here. I teach mental health nursing, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more about what MHFA is all about. I personally feel very strongly about decreasing the stigma surrounding mental health and empowering students and patients, and make them feel seen and heard, and that we have a greater awareness and teaching our students to have a greater awareness of what people are going through.” “No one wants to take the first step forward,” said Kirstin Maska, a student who attended the training. “Perhaps the apathy is tragically genuine, but sometimes people just don’t know how to handle a situation, and think to themselves, that person over there might know how to help, let them help, not me. MHFA teaches taking a step forward in a crisis situation, and it’s by having this skill that will counteract such paralyzing apathy. You or I will know how to help, just a bit – hopefully, just enough.” With the first MHFA certification class a success and the first round of Mental Health Aiders on campus, JJC is hoping to bridge the gap in getting peers and faculty members the help they need, and having this open talk of mental health to end the stigma surrounding it. If you or someone you know are struggling, JJC now has a Care Report on their Health and Wellness page under student resources on the JJC website. The Care Report is a forum that allows staff, faculty members, students and community members to communicate concerns regarding students who may need additional support if they’re experiencing mental health challenges, financial challenges, unmet basic necessities and much more. To file a report go to: jjc. edu/carereport.