Educators and others who work at schools are often trained in medical first aid and workplace safety, but Monday another area of training was the focus at the Hays campus of North Central Kansas Technical College.

The day-long training in mental health first aid was provided by High Plains Mental Health Center, paid for by a grant from the Heartland Foundation.

Sandra Gottschalk, dean of the Hays campus and a registered nurse, said the training is part of a holistic approach to students’ well-being. She attended mental health first aid training at the college’s Beloit campus and sought the grant to bring it to Hays.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” she said.

“We’ve got some very challenging programs and they go very quick,” she said.

Combine the schoolwork with other stressors in life, and some students might exhibit signs of anxiety, suffer panic attacks or depression, or even have suicidal thoughts.

“If faculty and staff are a little bit more in tune to those stressors and can help identify, maybe we can help those students a little quicker,” Gottschalk said.

HPMH staff Amy Bird, Jessica Sherfick, Mark Luck and Kaley Conner provided the training Monday.

In addition to educators, HPMH has also provided the training to law enforcement and first responders in Ellis and other counties. It’s meant for anyone, however, Conner said.

Separate training for those who work with youth is also also available.

As with medical first aid, mental health first aid is a step in helping those suffering find help.

“We can’t teach people to be therapists and diagnose. We can help them know what resources are available and effectively help people in their lives,” Conner, HPMC’s marketing director, said.

“Just like with physical health, early intervention is very important for mental health,” she said.

Material covered in the training including recognizing the signs of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, as well as an action plan.

The five-step action plan is remembered by the mnemonic device ALGEE:

• Assess for risk of suicide or harm

• Listen non-judgmentally

• Give reassurance and information

• Encourage appropriate professional help

• Encourage self-help and other support strategies

The staff was also given tips on how to talk to someone they think might be considering suicide including what to ask and how to direct someone to help.

Questions about suicide should be direct, the instructors said, and had the faculty and staff ask each other the questions — “Have you thought about suicide?” and “Do you have a plan of how would do it?” for example — to get used to being able to say it to someone.

While some of the NCK Tech faculty — especially those with nursing or social studies backgrounds — said the information reiterated what they had already learned, they appreciated the training and the action plan.

“I haven’t been in school for 20 years, so it’s interesting to have the updates on what our kids today are experiencing,” said Rene Meyers, general education instructor for social studies.

“I’m eager for the application part, because that’s where it really comes into play,” Jennifer Younger, business technology instructor, said. “If you notice somebody who has these symptoms, what’s the ‘do’ part of it? What do you do?”

Meyers said the training made her realize students who might appear uninterested in their classwork might actually suffering from stress and need more attention.

Anyone interested in organizing mental health training for their organization can contact Conner at 785-628-2871.

Ellis County law enforcement agencies are working with HPMH on further training in dealing with mental health by establishing a Crisis Intervention Team. Read about those efforts later this week in The Hays Daily News.