Extension and Outreach offers mental health first aid training


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Extension and Outreach teaches instructors with the response plan ALGEE: Assess for risk of harm, including suicide, Listen attentively and respectively, Give reassurance and information, Encourage appropriate professional help and Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

Cinthia Naranjo

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is now offering mental health training for rural communities.

Extension and Outreach is helping rural Iowans and communities by certifying its staff in mental health first aid. The idea came about due to the recent farm economy and its lack of improvement, which is placing a strain among the rural population, said David Brown, the behavioral health specialist for Human Sciences Extension and Outreach and a mental health first aid instructor. 

This year’s goal has been to train extension staff at the university and county level.

“Individuals who are trained in mental health first aid are not therapists, counselors or diagnosticians,” Brown said. “The place to access counseling services on campus would be Student Counseling Services. The role for those trained in mental health first aid is simply to support others who may be experiencing a mental health crisis, just like someone trained in CPR could support someone in crisis who is not breathing.”

Brown said there is a stigma around mental health, and it is strong in rural communities.

“Given the stress levels in the Iowa agriculture community, we thought it would be proactive for ISU Extension and Outreach staff to have additional training in this area since we often interact with agriculture partners in our work,” Brown said. “We are now fortunate to be able to offer this program directly to our agribusiness partners in 2020.”

The Extension and Outreach specialists started training their staff in mental health first aid last year. This year, they are expanding sessions across the state and also creating eight opportunities in 2020 to take the workshop, an eight-hour course that costs $50.

“Next year, ISU Extension and Outreach will offer mental health first aid classes at an additional eight sites across the state,” Brown said. “The classes will be open to ISU Extension and Outreach staff and agribusiness professionals.”

To begin the training, there is an online workshop. The workshop discusses stigmas, depression, anxiety, psychosis and providing help to those with a substance use disorder.

“Individuals who participate in a mental health first aid class learn how to identify, understand and respond to those who may be experiencing a mental health related problem or crisis,” Brown said. “Individuals will learn what to do, what to say and how to offer support and resources with confidence.”

The course is interactive and involves lectures, activities and videos. After the training, participants are certified for three years.

The goal for Extension and Outreach is for participants to recognize the signs and know when an intervention is needed.

Brown and three other certified mental health first aid instructors teach a response plan called ALGEE:

– Assess for risk of harm, including suicide.

– Listen attentively and respectively.

– Give reassurance and information.

– Encourage appropriate professional help.

– Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

There will be more workshops in 2020 offered across the state in cities such as Sioux City, Chariton, Dubuque, Urbandale, Spencer, Muscatine, Council Bluffs and Mason City.

”There will be no changes made next year, as the training is owned by the National Council for Behavioral Health,” Brown said. “Should they make changes or improvements to the training, we would follow their updated guidelines.”

If anyone is interested or wants to register, they can contact David Brown by email at [email protected] or register on the Iowa State events page.