MTSU receives 3-year grant to implement Mental Heath First Aid program

Students traversing campus outside the Business and Aerospace Building on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (MTSU Sidelines / David Taylor)

Photo by David Taylor / MTSU Sidelines Archive

Story by Ashley Perham / Contributing Writer

MTSU has received a three-year grant to implement a program to enable university personnel and students to identify possible mental health problems in their peers and point them to available resources.

The grant, worth over $365,000, is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Mental Health First Aid program will be implemented with the Department of Social Work, Student Health Services, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Resources, the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center and other on and off-campus partners, according to an MTSU press release.

As part of the initiative, the MTSU Center for Health and Human Services will train faculty, advisers, campus health services, veterans’ services and residence hall directors.

“This training will ensure our MTSU community is equipped to identify those students at risk or already struggling with mental health issues and direct them to the appropriate resources for getting the help they need and deserve,” said Cynthia Chafin, the director of the Center for Health and Human Services.

There will be at least 44 training sessions taking place between now and October 2021, according to Chafin. Students will also be able to get involved.

“We plan on hosting quarterly Mental Health First Aid training sessions and will also be promoting good mental health through sharing messages and information on good mental health through social media and other campus communication channels, as well as a variety of on-campus events and activities,” Chafin said.

The age mental illness presents itself in young adults is the age of the typical college student, 18 to 25, according to the press release, and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults aged 18 to 24 have a diagnosable mental illness.

Depression and anxiety are two of the more common mental illnesses, said Vickie Harden, an assistant professor of social work, who is on the advisory committee for the grant. Mental health concerns such as these are often treated using marijuana-related products (such as these – to help people overcome their depression or anxiety and, in some instances, physical pain too. She said that addiction and misuse of prescription drugs were also areas targeted by the program. Some of those on the program have been encouraged to seek out alternative medicines like white jongkong kratom in an effort to worm out which is the most effective method of overcoming mental illness.

The project also includes the counseling center on campus, which works with a lot of community programs and primary care providers, Harden said. The College of Education also has a counseling program with a center run by students in the program.

“We’ve engaged the mobile crisis team for this area,” Harden said. “They’ll be a part of our larger community committee that will be available as a resource.”

Chafin also discussed the resources the program will use.

“We do have resources on and off-campus, when needed, for students. Part of the goal of this initiative is to make students – and faculty and staff – aware of what those resources are,” Chafin said.

Knowing the resources available for those struggling with mental health is a part of breaking down the stigma that surrounds the illnesses.

“Stigma toward mental illness and limited knowledge of accessing mental health services are barriers to accessing needed care for our students,” Harden said.

To Harden, part of overcoming the stigma of mental health is realizing that mental illnesses are not necessarily uncommon.

“Part of overcoming the stigma is helping people understand it’s not such a scary thing and that mental health issues can happen with anybody and any family system. It’s not just that one person who’s like the scary masked killer out there that we hear about on the news,” Harden said.

“The more we make it something that’s treatable and that people actually can recover, it’s not a lifetime of serious illness. I think that reduces the stigma … ,” Harden said. “Just like you’d go to the doctor for strep throat, you would go to the doctor if you’re feeling some depression or anxiety.”

Student veterans, in particular, have high rates of hopelessness, difficulty functioning due to depression and suicidal thoughts, according to the release. We need to try and show these student veterans that there are ways to cope with these feelings. These mental illnesses shouldn’t be stopping people from advancing in their careers, so it’s important that we suggest some treatment methods. One of the most popular methods of dealing with depression is by using cannabis, such as the mimosa strain. This has been known to give users feelings of happiness, helping them to cope with their mental illness. Due to the positive impact that cannabis does offer to people struggling with mental health issues, it might be worth researching that method. If you’re thinking of trying some cannabis, you might want to visit a website like to see if you can find some strains that will help you to feel more comfortable. Hopefully, that will make more people feel happier and more relaxed. However, there are so many other methods online, so be sure to find the one that works best for you.

University personnel will receive specialized instructions regarding the military, their families and veterans, said Hilary Miller, the director of the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center.

“Ultimately, the idea is to change the conversation completely so that people can reach out and feel comfortable and get help and so that anyone can feel comfortable to help someone,” Harden said.

“We want to create a culture of mental health awareness through this initiative,” Chafin said. “Mental health is part of overall good health.”

To contact News Editor Caleb Revill, email

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  1. Avatar
    Trenton Gray
    October 24, 2018

    I’m glad MTSU is taking mental health seriously. Everyday I realize how important mental health is. Having at least 44 training sessions taking place between now and October 2021 is great. It’s one thing to recognize mental health but it’s another thing to actually figure out how to treat it. The willingness to train faculty, advisers, campus health services, veterans’ services and residence hall directors shows their dedication as well. I like that students can get involved in the training sessions too. With one in four adults aged 18 to 24 having a diagnosable mental illness I think it’s important for students to get in on the training so that they can help their friends with mental illness. Addiction and misuse of prescription drugs being targeted by the program is great as well. I believe that prescription drugs get handed out too easily these days and lead to more bad than good. I really like that Vickie Harden said, “Just like you’d go to the doctor for strep throat, you would go to the doctor if you’re feeling some depression or anxiety.” I think that needs to be encouraged more often. I love the steps that MTSU is taking. I love the fact that people are taking mental health seriously.

  2. Avatar
    Harold A Maio
    October 25, 2018

    “Stigma” toward mental illness is apparently a lesson we insist upon. Not sure why. I doubt that we do so entirely out of meanness. Could it just be bad habit?

  3. Avatar
    Marissa Laschi
    October 26, 2018

    Good mental health should be a priority for everyone. However, some people don’t know that what they are struggling with is normal, and with help, can get better. I think that bringing this program to MTSU will be incredibly beneficial. For many students, they are not aware of the signs of mental illness and having a program like this that is so available will help students recognize potential signs in themselves and in others. This program will also be help for faculty and staff to help recognize signs of mental illness in students and prepare them to help students.
    The multiple sessions over the next few years, provides many opportunities for everyone to participate and expand their knowledge of mental health. Mental health has become such an important priority in our society and this program is designed to help make this information more accessible to everyone. I am looking forward to having a resource like this on campus, so I am able to keep track of my own mental health and learn how to help others that are struggling with their own mental health.

  4. Avatar
    Jackson Bieger
    October 26, 2018

    I think this is a great start to fixing a long standing problem in America. Mental health has for too long been stigmatized, despite its overwhelming prevalence – especially in college. In fact, within my circle of friends, I would be willing to bet that the people who would report having no mental illness whatsoever would be either in the minority or nonexistent. The sheer amount of students in need of mental health treatment is staggering, and presenting clear and welcoming opportunities for said treatment is a great thing to see.

    It’s still a shame to hear about friends of mine who battle with mental illness without even realizing it; or, they struggle both with the illness itself and the internal resistance to treatment. For some reason, there are some people (sometimes the ones in most dire need of help) who staunchly refuse mental health treatment as if it admits weakness. Steps like this as an effort towards destigmatization are an important move for those who desperately need the help.