K-State Research and Extension Cowley County is partnering with other health and human service providers to launch a community-wide Mental Health First Aid training program. The purpose will be to equip more people to respond to mental health needs and to be aware of local resources.

The Mental Health First Aid education course helps individuals assist someone experiencing a mental health or substance use-related crisis. Participants learn risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations and where to turn for help.

The program got a boost from a K-State Research and Extension Culture of Health grant that will fund local scholarships for Mental Health First Aid training. The grant was one of 32 provided to extension offices in Kansas to support mental and physical health initiatives across the state. In total, $170,000 in grants were awarded in 2018 with Cowley County Extension receiving $5,000.

Working with Kansans across the state to improve mental and physical health is the plan behind a K-State Research and Extension effort called the Culture of Health. The goal, part of a nationwide effort, is for extension to do for mental and physical health what extension has done for agriculture for years.

Extension offices across the state have always offered classes and resources aimed at educating the public about how to live healthier lives. The Culture of Health initiative, however, sharpened the focus and is providing extension agents with more tools to support mental and physical health programs. To create an environment with more opportunity to practice healthy behaviors, community involvement is emphasized.

The initiative kicked off in 2018 when K-State Research and Extension brought together 250 representatives of health departments, health coalitions and other stakeholders with extension staff in seven locations around Kansas to identify existing resources and challenges. Among the most significant concerns were obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, addictions, farm stress, suicides, and access to health care and healthy foods.

“Mental health was a common thread across the state,” said Paula Peters, associate director of extension programs. “While our extension staff may not be equipped to deal directly with many of those issues, we are good at bringing people together to learn how best to address them and in guiding people to places where they can get help.”

Awarding grants to local extension offices to address some of the most pressing needs in communities was the next step. Cowley County Extension will be partnering with Four County Mental Health, City-Cowley County Health Department, Community Health Center in Cowley County and RISE Cowley coalition partners. Anticipated dates for Mental Health First Aid trainings will begin in the fall. Contact K-State Research and Extension Cowley County at (620) 221-5450 to be placed on a waiting list.

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