In an effort to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, Kent State hosted the Mental Health Workshop. The workshop focuses on various mental health topics such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance abuse disorders. The workshop also discusses the signs and symptoms of these and how to correctly identify when an individual is experiencing a mental health crisis.

Kimberley Laurene, the coordinator of the mental health workshop, said that while there are many goals for the mental health workshop, the primary goal is to raise awareness for mental health and to ultimately combat the stigma surrounding mental health.

“The goal is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, and also to be able to link people on campus with resources and have people on campus be able to recognize if somebody is experiencing a mental health crisis and how to reach out to them,” Laurene said.

Laurene said she still believes there is a stigma regarding mental health but is hopeful it will decrease. Laurene said that with more education and knowledge of the topic of mental health, the misconceptions of mental health will greatly be reduced.

“I think the more we have knowledge about mental illness, people will be supportive and not make fun of people, think of them as crazy, that it is all in their head or any sort of negative ideas that may be out there right now,” Laurene said.

The mental health workshop class is offered as a part of a national initiative that is taught around the United States and the world, and is part of a campaign to train 1 million Americans in mental health training. Laurene said that they just recently reached the goal, with 1 million Americans recently passing the workshop and understanding mental health topics and how to identify when someone is experiencing a breakdown.

This campaign was accepted and fully incorporated into the Kent State community in March of 2016, and this was made possible through a grant that Derric Kenne, an assistant professor of health policy and management, and Rebecca Fischbein, a lecturer of health policy and management, wrote that made Kent State eligible to provide these classes on campus.

Kenne contributed in the writing process for the grant. Kenne said that the objectives for writing the grant were to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and to provide insight into the topics themselves.

“Dr. Fischbein and I wrote the grant to train 720 students, staff, faculty here at Kent State using the mental health first aid program in hopes of reducing the stigma that is present on campus, help people understand what a mental health crisis looks like, so they can identify somebody who might be in crisis and hook them up with referral services,” Kenne said.

Kenne said that the mental health first aid was created to reflect a general first aid kit and this helps the participants be able to identify if someone around them is being affected by a mental illness.

“So, for example, after taking the course, you would be better able to recognize if a classmate or student in your dorm were experiencing depression that was more than a short bout of sadness or unhappiness — depression that was severe enough to cause the student significant difficulty,” Kenne said.

Laurene said that people come to the workshop because they are genuinely interested in learning more about mental health and want to educate themselves on the topic, as they sometimes know a family member or a friend that has been affected by mental health issues. Laurene has also found that some participants come looking for answers on what to do if a loved one of theirs is being affected by mental illness. There is a wide variety of reasons for why people come to the event.

Kevin Acierno, the manager of information technology for Kent State Ashtabula, said he really liked how open and inviting of an atmosphere the workshop was offered in.

Acierno said that the workshop touched on depression, anxiety and other related mental health topics, as well as taught the participants how to reach out to people and identify if they are struggling.

“I think that is one of the things we need to do as a society — it’s teaching us to reach out, to put the smartphone down and have the face to face interaction,” Acierno said.

Acierno has been affected by mental illness in a personal way. Acierno said his sister suffered from anxiety and had a panic attack while driving her car and stopped at a red light. Acierno and his two brothers had to pull her out of the car.

Acierno said that after participating in the mental health workshop, he now feels more prepared to be able to handle someone experiencing a mental illness or some other related mental breakdown.

“I think things happen in your life that stick with you,” Acierno said. “That was just a panic attack, but if I could notice some of the other mental illnesses that are there, whether someone is suicidal, schizophrenic, now at least I know the steps to help them.”

Another participant in the mental health workshop has been affected by mental illness in a very personal way. Participant Janayia Thompson , a senior at Kent state majoring in psychology, said her mother struggles with clinical depression.

“My mother suffers from depression, and it’s part of why I wanted to study psychology and see why the mind works the way it does,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she believes that the mental health workshop is important as it allows the participants to see that mental health spans all aspects of an afflicted individual’s life. It can affect anyone, no matter what they look like.

“It explains to you more in depth about mental health,” Thompson said. “It smashes the stigma, because you never know how somebody looks who is suffering from mental health issues.”

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