Arkansas Rural Health Partnership Expands Mental Health Outreach | Community groups

When it comes to mental health, most people are not trained in how to respond to situations that are crisis or non-crisis. Mental health concerns in Arkansas and the United States are at an all-time high.

This growing need for mental health services, along with continued shortages of providers, resources, and transportation, has created an enormous unmet need in both rural and urban communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives, and 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.

The Arkansas Rural Health Partnership is trying to fill the gap by educating people across the state in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).

Mental Health First Aid is an international, evidence-based program that prepares participants to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

Participants learn to identify, understand, and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges with a five-step action plan. According to Amanda Kutenkuller, senior program director for the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, “this internationally recognized, evidence-based program takes the guesswork out of how to respond to someone experiencing a mental health challenge.”

Like traditional first aid, Mental Health First Aid gives participants the tools they need to feel confident responding to a difficult situation. Mental health first aid is about getting the person experiencing mental health problems the help they need. This can guide them towards self-help, encouraging professional help or getting immediate help. The program covers both crisis and non-crisis situations.

Mental health challenges and substance use challenges often go hand in hand, so Mental Health First Aid also incorporates substance abuse challenges into its curriculum.

“Substance use problems are so pervasive in our communities and schools that we really can’t deal with one without the other,” according to Kuttenkuler.

Kuttenkuler, who has been with the partnership for three years, was recently named the top mental health first aid instructor for the state of Arkansas. Kuttenkuler trained over 580 people last year across Arkansas.

“For me, it’s about meeting people where they are and changing their views on mental health. I have been blessed to share this program with many people from all over the state and every time the response is the same “why didn’t we do this sooner?” I love meeting new people and sharing this program with them. My favorite thing is to listen to stories

about where the training made a real difference in a given situation. When you see the words and ideas you give people turn into actions that help someone, that’s how you know you know you’re making a difference.”

After a recent study at a local high school, participants decided to create an anonymous way for students, parents and teachers to anonymously report a mental health incident. Within six months, the line was used over 130 times by students, with 16 of them experiencing non-suicidal self-harm or suicidal thoughts and ideas. The school district was able to get these students immediate help.

ARHP has also trained health professionals, educators, and civic groups throughout the state. One of the most recent groups trained by ARHP is the entire athletics staff at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, where their entire staff of coaches and directors have been trained in mental health first aid.

Arkansas Rural Health Partnership is a nonprofit organization that includes 15 rural hospitals, two community health centers and two medical universities, including Magnolia Regional Medical Center.

The partnership recognized the need to address mental and behavioral health when their respective communities expressed the need in 2019 during community health needs assessments conducted in South Arkansas.

“We hope we are able to provide mental health first aid to as many teachers, students, community members, church leaders, health care providers and emergency responders as possible,” said Mellie Bridewell, president and founder of the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.