May 10, 2021

Sara Palmer, CMA, Mankato Clinic, Mental Health First Aider 
Aaron Hoy, Ph.D., assistant professor, MSU-Mankato, Mental Health First Aider 
Mary Beth Trembley, RN, Mankato Clinic, Mental Health First Aid instructor

Sara Palmer received a call from daughter who was away at college. Her daughter was depressed and in the midst of a mental health crisis. Sara was able to calm her down, get to the heart of the problem and connect her with the professional help her daughter needed to treat her feelings of depression.

“We didn’t even know she was having these issues until it all came boiling over that day,” Sara said.

Sara had the tools to help her daughter because she attended the Mental Health First Aid workshop the week prior. Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour training session that gives people the skills they need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis.

Sara’s daughter is not alone. In a 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of 5,400 young adults, 60% of participants reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Since 2018, Mary Beth Trembley, RN, Mankato Clinic Department of Psychiatry, has trained 500 Mental Health First Aiders. Mental Health First Aid is part of a global movement led in the U.S. by the National Council for Behavioral Health. The goal is to make Mental Health First Aid as common as CPR.    

“As a trained Mental Health First Aider, you will be able to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders to members of your community,” Mary Beth said.  “You can be the difference in someone’s life.”

The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression skyrocketed in 2020, according to a new study, 2021: The State of Mental Health in America. And in 2020, more people reported frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm in Mental Health America screenings than ever before.

Mary Beth is well aware of the prevalence of mental illness. The issue is compounded by a shortage of mental health providers and the stigma around mental health. Mental illness often goes untreated. The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years.

“Basically 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness. Chances are you, a friend, family member or coworker may struggle at some point with anxiety, depression, substance use disorder or another mental illness,” Mary Beth said. “These issues are common, yet people are ashamed to reach out for help. We need to bring mental health out into the light.”

Aaron Hoy, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at Minnesota State University, Mankato, attended the Mental Health First Aid course this year. He is now a certified Mental Health First Aider for three years.

“Mental Health First Aid was so informative and helpful. I’m sure that I will use what I learned in working with my students, and I’ll definitely spread the word among faculty here on campus. With so many students struggling with mental health at the moment, it will be important, I think, that faculty be prepared to support them,” Professor Hoy said.

Mary Beth also teaches Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety. The course is designed to teach law officers, corrections officers, first responders and dispatch staff to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The course includes tools to de-escalate incidents and better understand mental illnesses.

“We focus on the unique experiences and needs of our public safety personnel. On a daily basis, our officers respond to calls and citizens who are struggling with substance use and mental illness,” Mary Beth said.

Commander Chris Baukol, Mankato Public Safety, coordinates officer and staff training in Mental Health First Aid. Law enforcement from the surrounding region, including Eagle Lake and North Mankato, have joined the training also.

“Responding to individuals who are dealing with mental health issues is common for law enforcement.  Often these individuals are in crisis when officers contact them,” Commander Baukol said. “The more we understand about mental health disorders, the more likely we are to have a safe, successful and positive outcome for the person in need and our officers and staff.” 

Sign up today

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour session that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Workshops are 7:45 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Mankato Clinic Conference Room, Madison East Center. Sign up for an upcoming workshop.