Training Helps Students Prepare for Mental Health Emergencies


Miguel Rodriguez

The Associated Students of the University of California, Santa Barbara are helping to bring mental health training to UCSB in order to raise awareness for mental illnesses. One of the best things that one can do for those who have a mental illness is to offer them help. Sadly, many people don’t know how to help or cannot identify when someone has a mental illness.

In addition, in the history of medicine and disease treatment, mental health issues have never been given the same weight as other physical afflictions. Just like any sickness, conditions such as ADD, anxiety disorder and dissociative identity disorder can fester in the bodies and minds of the affected and become worse over time if left untreated. Because of the lack of exposure, as well as a negative stigma surrounding mental illnesses and seeking help for them, there is relatively little awareness for mental illnesses.

This is where the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Training, started by Associate Director of Academic Initiatives Mark Shishim, steps in. Through a series of role-playing and simulation-based demonstrations, participants who sign up for MHFA Training are shown how to first identify a mental health crisis, then how to connect and refer the person afflicted to the appropriate resources. During the trainings, “the presenter pretends to have an anxiety attack and they ask how [the participants] would respond to it,” according to training organizer Mika Kawakami, a third-year Biopsychology and Japanese double major and Associated Students Off-Campus Senator.

Attending these trainings is highly popular, with the initial 50 spots filling up rapidly, and additional applicants having been waitlisted for the next quarter’s training. This popularity is accredited to students “recognizing the importance of mental health education, and that this is an opportunity for them to learn skills they wouldn’t otherwise have access to,” according to Kawakami. Attending and accomplishing the MHFA Training awards an official certificate that is nationally recognized just as a Red Cross First Aid certificate would be.

Sabiana White, former Director of UCSB Health and Wellness, began to volunteer at the Santa Barbara Wellness Center in 2012 after she retired from her position at UCSB, according to Kawakami. It was here that White met Shishim, who had originally started these trainings at UCSB. By 2013, Shishim and White had begun training UCSB Student Leaders.

Kawakami herself “held two trainings in the Winter and Spring, which generated a lot of interest in mental health on our campus,” she said. This allowed the trainings to open up to all UCSB students, with plans to make the training available every quarter. It is planned that the MHFA Trainings will be “quarterly [and] open to all UCSB students.” Looking ahead into the future, Kawakami said she “want[s] to create a bill to incorporate [these trainings] into the Mental Health Coordinator’s job duties in order to make sure it continues every quarter.”

Becoming knowledgable on how to correctly identify mental illnesses requires training because, unless someone has had a mental illness and knows the warning signs on a personal level, chances are most people will not realize that someone has a mental illness. For example, many people with depression can go the entire day with people, and not a single person will realize that deep below the surface they are hurting.

In addition, people must be trained to identify the symptoms because those who are afflicted often fear the stigma surrounding mental illnesses: often people will jump to conclusions when they say that they have schizophrenia, and become judgemental when people attempt to seek help.

“All through our lives, we don’t have any formal education regarding mental health, so students feel that this is a valuable opportunity because it equips us with tools to correctly identify and respond to mental health issues,” Kawakami said.

If someone has a broken arm or has the flu, it’s very easy to see that something is wrong and give that person treatment. A doctor or nurse will wrap up their arm or give them some medicine and send them home to recover. The same cannot be said for mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression. These ailments are just as serious as other biological illnesses, but because of their inner and personal nature often go unnoticed, and thus untreated.

With the help provided by the Mental Health First Aid Training and all of its associates, Kawakami hopes that “by spreading knowledge of mental health, this will reduce the stigma and improve the overall well-being of students on our campus.”