College launches initiative to take on Oregon’s mental health crisis
Mental health awareness is part of a national conversation that’s also very much a local one.
Oregon is in crisis, ranking 44 out of 50 states in mental health in 2017. Nationwide, one in two people will experience a mental health crisis at some point in their lifetime, and one in five will be diagnosed with a mental health concern. Of those diagnosed, less than half will get needed help. Children and youth are particularly vulnerable; 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14; 75 percent develop by age 24.
To respond to this increasing public health concern, the college is engaging partners in conversations to develop and implement coordinated strategies. This includes working with the university, counties and communities, government agencies and health care organizations, as well as the OSU Extension Service, which can help match address community identified needs with community-based solutions.
“What public health brings to the table is a prevention lens that supports families and communities to promote environments for better mental health,” says CPHHS Dean F. Javier Nieto. “And Extension is uniquely positioned to help communities solve local problems. This campus and county network serves as a ready platform for leveraging a community-based campaign to improve mental and behavioral health across the state.
“For instance, Extension Family and Community Health and the 4-H program are well integrated into communities promoting healthy lifestyles, particularly improving nutrition and physical activities, and positive youth development.
“Additionally, a national network of Extension programs provides access to youth education programs on avoiding harmful behaviors such as Health Rocks, PROSPER and Mental Health First Aid, as well as training in trauma informed care.
“The Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative, through its parenting hubs, delivers high-quality parenting education programs across the state and collaborates to strengthen regional parenting education systems. In addition, Extension has access to programs on family resource management that help families manage budgets and reduce stress. The Extension groundwork is strong for expanding its collaboration with schools and other locally based organizations to include mental health promotional efforts.”
Building on this capacity, the college recently launched a Youth and Family Mental Health Initiative, which kicked off with an event with the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy in Spring 2018. The college is also seeking resources to hire additional faculty and staff, in the community and on campus, who specialize in mental health and community engagement. These new faculty will engage with communities to help assess needs and identify target issues and coordinated solutions within communities. They will connect people facing mental and behavioral challenges with resources in health care, housing, transportation, employment, childcare and education. They may also help communities develop youth and family programs or centers to increase connections intended to reduce isolation and increase social connections.
Bringing additional momentum to the effort is the new director of the Oregon State University Center for Health Innovation (OCHI), Allison Myers, who says the center will make mental health a priority. “I know we need to be a player in solving what is really a crisis of despair,” she says. “And at Oregon State, we have people who are experts in this. I hope OCHI can amplify their voices.”
Poor mental health can affect all people, and college students aren’t immune. Mental Health Promotion Specialist Bonnie Hemrick, with OSU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), says that students “are asking very loudly for training” for mental health awareness. “They want to know what to look for and what resources are available, they want the training to reflect on their transcript in some way, and they’d like certification like they would receive for First Aid and CPR.”
In meeting their needs, Bonnie is taking a strategic, systems-level approach. She’s looking at bringing together mental health and suicide prevention training in one course that includes healthy coping skills and integrating mental health into existing courses. HHS 231, for example, has expanded its one-day stress management module to two days to also cover mental health awareness and coping skills. She’s also bringing a proposal to Faculty Senate this fall to include a mental health statement on all syllabi, which may take effect as early as Winter 2019 if the proposal is passed.
This work is in response to student mental health needs assessments conducted in Winter 2018 that seek to identify needs and gaps in systems that serve students and to learn more about what contributes to their mental health in a negative way.
“The numbers,” she says, “are a little staggering, to be honest.”
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Oregon, but suicide rates haven’t traditionally been tracked on campus for a number of reasons, mostly to protect families. Bonnie says it ranges from zero to five students each year; rarely is it zero.
Nationally, rates of suicide have increased 25 percent since 1999, a number not lost on student athletes Taylor Ricci, CPHHS/Kinesiology, and Nathan Braaten, College of Business. Bonnie has been working with the pair on their Dam Worth It mental health awareness/suicide prevention campaign, which recently was awarded funding from the Pac-12 grant program. That funding will go to mental health stigma reduction, awareness and a mental health training they will be developing with Bonnie that they will lead next year.
To help students, faculty and staff better support one another, the Public Health Club is working with CAPS and Samaritan Health Services to offer mental health first aid training. After an introductory session in May, an eight-hour training is being planned this fall. This training provides tools to identify signs of a mental health issue and how to help someone showing these signs. It covers information on depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis and substance abuse; discusses the risk factors and warning signs of mental health concerns in youth and adults; offers a five-step action plan to help someone with a mental health concern; and provides evidence-based professional, peer and self-help resources.
Funded by the Mullins Charitable Funds, in partnership with Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation, this training currently is offered in Benton, Lincoln and Linn counties. You can learn more at Learn Mental Health First Aid.