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Missouri Heads Up Mental Health First Aid on College Campuses

Two state agencies are teaming up to help spot mental illness in college students. The Missouri Department of Higher Education is partnering with the Department of Mental Health to train campus staff in "Mental Health First Aid". KSMU's Benjamin Fry reports.

Missouri will be one of the first states in the U.S. to train colleges in recognizing and helping students who show signs of mental illness.

Dottie Mullikin is the Director of Prevention for the Department of Mental Health.

She says the earlier people with mental illness are identified, the easier it will be to treat them.

"More than half of all mental illnesses manifest themselves before the age of 25. And we know that if we catch something early, the chances of a full recovery are far more likely," Mullikin said.

Mullikin says the program is modeled after one in Australia.

As its name suggests, Mental Health First Aid focuses on providing on-the-spot help to individuals and gauging how severe their stress is.

"It's partly knowing when it's okay to sit down and have a cup of coffee with someone, or when it's time to say 'you know, you really do need professional help; here is some places in our community where you can get it," Mullikin said.

Staff would be trained to recognize common illnesses such as anxiety disorders and depression, as well as substance abuse, eating disorders and self-injury.

Mullikin says an important part of the program is giving individuals more confidence to speak up when someone seems to be in trouble.

"It also reduces stigma so that you're not so nervous about suggesting to someone that they might want to take a look at help," Mullikin said.

Though the extent of training would be based on funding, Mullikin hopes schools will focus on ongoing training programs for residence hall workers and faculty.

For KSMU News, I'm Benjamin Fry.