University News

Mental Health First Aid Training Spreads Across the WNE Campus Community

By: by Cole Strzelecki '25 | Published: October 12, 2023 | Categories: All News
Group of 20 student who recently became MHFA certified.

Western New England University has recently achieved training of over 350 members of the WNE community in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). In 2023 alone, 46 faculty and staff and 106 students have been certified.

"I think the more of us that are trained on campus and are more comfortable, the more the stigma is going to lessen and, ideally, disappear," Dr. Kam Capoccia, Clinical Professor of Community Care, explained. Capoccia completed her MHFA certification in 2018 and has been a certified instructor since 2020.

Mental Health First Aid is a course offered to members of the WNE campus community to teach people how to understand, identify, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders in others. Becoming a part of this University in 2018, this program teaches the skills needed to reach out and provide help and support to someone who may be developing or experiencing a mental health or substance use problem.

"The goal is to have 35% of the campus certified within the next three years," Capoccia continued. "We're at about 11 to 12% right now. It's going to take us a little while to get to that point, but I'm confident that we will." She feels that maintaining the 35% minimum will help push the program forward, create cultural change, and ensure that Western New England University can provide the support the campus community needs.

As for the training itself, it is typically an all-day process, taking about seven and a half hours to complete. Courses are offered on weekends or days when people aren't in class or working, including fall and spring break. This scheduling ensures that campus community members will have many opportunities to achieve MHFA certification throughout the year.

MHFA training covers everything from asking the important questions to connecting people to professional medical resources so participants can handle any situation they may encounter. "Before the training, I thought I had a decent understanding on how to help someone who is in crisis or distress due to my personal experiences," senior pharmacy student Samantha Dodge explained. "I quickly realized that there were so many things that I didn't know about or how to help." Dodge completed the MHFA training course in December of 2022 and felt it was an educational and motivational experience. "After the training, I felt so much more confident in helping someone in distress or crisis across all of the conditions the training covers," she said.

During the training, participants view tutorials and role-play potential mental health crisis situations. "A moment that really spoke to me during the training is learning that it is okay to just ask someone if they are considering suicide," Dodge remarked. Trainees incorporated this concept into a role-playing scenario by turning to another participant, asking the key question, and simulating a response and reaction. "...In different times of my life, I have had friends or family reach out to me indicating different things, whether it be they were self-harming, thinking that the world would be better if they weren't there, or saying that they were actually considering death by suicide," Dodge explained. "The training teaches you that it is okay to ask someone, because you might be the only person they talk to about the situation and the only one who gets them help."

The sample scenarios left a significant impact on senior Pharmacy major Hannah Tricarico as well. Tricarico also took the course in December of 2022 and became even more inspired to help those in crisis. "Many moments during the training spoke to me, but I would say the most was during the example videos," she explained. "Seeing what these people go through almost behind the scenes really opens your eyes and leads you to want to help even more."

Tricarico went into the course with the idea of helping others in mind. "I signed up for the MHFA program to get a better understanding of how to care for patients better overall...I knew that this training would help me better understand how to approach them and go about talking with [them]," she described. Knowing the strategies to approach and talk to those in a mental crisis is key to showing them that you can help, especially in the field Tricarico intends to pursue. "This training will 100% help me in the future," Tricarico began. "As a Pharmacy student currently on rotations, I see different patients every day with different types of mental health concerns. The fact that I can talk to these patients who are going through this and help them even a little makes my experience so much better."

For those in or pursuing a career in helping others experiencing mental health crises, MHFA certification provides invaluable preparatory training. The program ensures people interested in this field feel fully prepared to listen to any issues their patients face and feel confident in their skills to help them. "I have spoken to many patients who have talked about their distress, and I never knew what to say or how to respond. After the training, I am more confident in interacting with a person with distress or challenges, even if I haven't experienced the situation myself," Samantha Dodge offered.

Ultimately, the Mental Health First Aid program offered at Western New England University is quite revolutionary. It takes members of the campus community who otherwise might not know precisely how to deal with people experiencing mental health issues, and it trains them to be open and available to discuss this subject and be there for those in need. As long as WNE continues the promotion of the program, the campus community has the potential to become an area full of understanding and support for those going through a mental health crisis. Hopefully, then, the stigma associated with mental health issues will disappear.