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New Initiative Equips Undergrads to Be ‘Mental Health Leaders’ on Campus

SPH Introducing Courses, Training, Book Club to Help ID Concerning Behavior

By Sala Levin ’10

one person holding another's hands

A new School of Public Health initiative offers courses, discussion groups and training to help students navigate mental health concerns with their peers.

Photo by iStock

As mental health concerns like anxiety and severe depression continue to rise on college campuses across the country, the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health is launching an initiative that empowers those uniquely positioned to identify struggling students: other Terps.

Campus and Community Leaders in Mental Health (CCLiMH), funded by a Teaching and Learning Grant is a multifaceted program comprising new undergraduate courses, training in mental health and psychological first aid, internships and discussion groups. Participating students will be better equipped to identify mental health worries in themselves and others—including lack of engagement, change in mood or expressions of anxiety—and to implement coping strategies or connect to resources.

Students in the program are “putting words to their experiences, they’re developing insight about their own mental health experiences and they’re able to name what their peers are going through from a mental health standpoint,” said Amy Morgan, assistant professor of couple and family therapy in the Department of Family Science, which hosts CCLiMH. “Armed with that knowledge, there’s a deeper understanding of who they are and what they’re going through.”

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A key component of the initiative, which launched this semester and will continue to roll out over the academic year, is leveraging the clinical expertise of faculty members in the department. “Three of us are licensed therapists, so we took our skills and training to develop this project to meet the needs of college students, trying to both teach college students about mental health but also train them to be leaders of mental health change on campus and in their communities,” said Morgan.

Students will have the opportunity to earn micro-credentials in mental health first aid and psychological first aid, from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, respectively. The former is a bystander intervention training, showing participants how to recognize mental health crises and how to intervene if they see someone experiencing one. Public-facing workers like librarians, teachers or bus drivers often undergo this kind of training. Psychological first aid prepares participants to respond to trauma in disasters like hurricanes or wildfires.

[UMD Bolsters Suicide Prevention Efforts]

Another element offers students a clearer view of what a career in the mental health field might look like. Courses like “Mental Health and Healing in Families;” “Family Crises, Emergencies and Disasters;” and “Working with Diverse Families” will give students foundational knowledge to go on to pursue higher degrees in clinical work, while panel discussions will shed light on the day-to-day experiences of mental health care providers.

Understanding the impact of identity is also critical to CCLiMH. In the spring, a book group will be open to any university student who wants to “be in a space where they can contextualize racial stress and trauma through a mental health lens,” said Morgan.

Kevin Roy, professor of family science, believes that CCLiMH will be a vital part of the university’s mental health resources. “If students can take this and identify where they’re at and talk to their friends about what they’re going through, that’s going to enhance our health on campus,” he said.

Schools & Departments:

School of Public Health

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