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Students participate during an in-class exercise Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. The Office of Interprofessional Education aims to teach nursing and medical students how to assist people with a mental health crisis.

Students participate during an in-class exercise Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. The Office of Interprofessional Education aims to teach nursing and medical students how to assist people with a mental health crisis.

Training spotlights mental health crises

Nursing, physical therapy, dental hygiene, emergency medicine and medicine students were all brought together Tuesday to learn about helping someone in a mental health crisis.

The Office of Interprofessional Education at UNM’s Health Sciences Center put together the two-part mental health first aid certification course and Amy Levi, director of Interprofessional Education Office, said they thought it would be a good tool to give students.

“I don’t know that students often have the skills or the tools to say to a classmate, ‘I think you’re feeling a little stressed out’ or ‘are you feeling like you want to hurt yourself’ or something like that,” Levi said. “Those are taboo subjects unless you feel like you have the knowledge to be able to interact with somebody that is experiencing that kind of crisis.”

According to the American Psychological Association, mental health issues in college students have been on the rise since the ‘90s.

The eight-hour course was taken by 380 students and the trainers were volunteers from the City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, NM State Police, NM Crisis Line, CNM, Indian Health Service, Tribal Technologies, NM Aware, Presbyterian Healthcare Services and Albuquerque Public Schools.

Levi said the Interprofessional Education Office was most excited by the broad range of community volunteers who were willing to run the sessions.

“I think the trainers really appreciated being able to do the training with people who would be able to put this in actual practice, and be able to make a difference in the communities they’re involved in,” she said.

Last year the IEO ran a broader training and the feedback they got asked for more focus on mental health, which is what led to this course, Levi said.

The course focused on teaching students to listen carefully, evaluate if they need to send someone to the emergency room, give advice and call for help if they need it — all with an emphasis on empathy, she said.

Saqiba Ouimet, a level four nursing student, said she learned that mental health is about listening carefully and helping someone in a quick and efficient manner.

“Let’s be honest, with New Mexico, mental health services are lacking. So sometimes the first time that they enter the health care system is through the ER, so that leaves it up to us nurses to be able to assess how to deal with the situation. And if we’re not trained, they’re not going to get the help,” Ouimet said.

Level two nursing student Caroline Roberts said the training has been a good reminder of the right ways to talk with people in a mental health crisis.

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“I have a lot of friends who have suffered through different mental illnesses, so it’s very important to know how to deal with that. That will also transfer over into the nursing so that we can address this with patients in the future,” Roberts said.

Dental hygiene student Jenisha Patel said the teamwork in the sessions was fun, and said she thinks the training she received is definitely something she can add to her resume.

MD student Lauren McMillian said she’ll get more training on mental health later, but thinks the sessions provide a good foundation and a different perspective from the one she gets in her other classes.

“As an MD student it’s easy to just stick around the other MD students,” McMillian said. “You don’t get to branch out and meet other professions because we’re so isolated with our schedule, so it’s been really nice to meet other people in different programs.”

All of the students said that they rarely take courses with students from other medical fields.

“I like being able to work with the other professions, because we’re going to have to play nice in the sandbox when we graduate,” Ouimet said.

Levi said IEO may run another program on mental health first aid in the future depending on the kind of feedback they receive — and so far, the responses have been good.

“I hope that having this exposure will improve people’s sensitivity to the complexities of mental health issues and also recognizing when their colleagues are experiencing mental health challenges,” she said.

Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter 

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