May has been mental health awareness month in the U.S. for 70 years. Observance started in 1949. With the end of World War II as the historical context, it is perhaps not surprising that the aftermath of a world crisis would leave people yearning for mental stability.
Decades of research, programs and services have not alleviated mental suffering, but progress is being made. USU Extension has expanded its health and wellness programming, hiring two part-time, grant-funded positions in health promotion. The goal is to bring more evidence-based health education to Tooele that can boost mental health and mental health awareness.
Tooele County has a strong list of community partners who support mental health. One type of support is focused on people who struggle with mental illness, offering direct treatment and services (like counseling, therapy, or medical care). Other supports are less direct, like support groups offered for family members. A third type of support for mental health focuses on prevention. One great way to celebrate mental health is to find out how to prevent mental illness before it begins.
Prevention Science is a fairly new field of study, using researched methods to prevent human dysfunction before it occurs. The science of prevention has demonstrated that certain conditions can be risk factors for mental illness. But prevention science has a flip side. While the risk factors may lead to dysfunction, there are also some protective factors that can prevent harm from occurring. Important protective factors include awareness, support and skills or mastery.
Several groups have been working hard to boost protective factors in Tooele. The Life’s Worth Living Foundation recently sponsored a suicide awareness walk, bringing attention to a critical issue of mental distress. Awareness is a key principle in prevention — as knowledge can reduce stigma and encourage help seeking.
Tooele Communities that Care (CTC) sponsors ongoing suicide prevention gatekeeper trainings. These trainings have a dual purpose of building awareness while also offering skill-building. Having a caring and supportive social network is a powerful protective factor. The CTC is creating a community of support that is trained to ask and intervene when mental distress is high.
USU-Extension is joining the community effort to support wellness by building mental health awareness and skills. Two Extension employees recently completed training to offer an 8-hour mental health curriculum that will boost mental health skills and awareness. Robyn Handley, 4-H advisor, and Maren Wright Voss, assistant faculty, have been trained to offer these Mental Health First Aid trainings for youth and adults.
Completing these trainings is a great way to show support for Mental Health Awareness Month and to support the well-being of your community. To schedule a training, contact Maren Wright Voss, ScD at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 301-851-8464.
Maren Wright Voss, ScD, is a professional practice extension assistant professor of health and wellness at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2409 and at email@example.com.