Nixon addresses Columbia educators at mental health first aid training

Dec 5, 2013

Gov. Jay Nixon
Credit File Photo / KBIA

As part of Gov. Jay Nixon’s mental health initiative program, two hundred Missouri K-12 teachers, counselors and administrators gathered in Columbia this week to learn how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.

Jermine Alberty is a mental health first-aid instructor. He says one of the first things he does in a session is ask his trainees to write down derogatory terms related to mental illness.

“You hear everything from psycho, crazy, nuts, and I take that piece of paper we write it on, then I ball it up, then I throw it in the trash,” Alberty said.

Alberty says trashing the stigma that comes with mental illnesses is a big part of the training program, which lasts 8 hours. The trainees also learn how to properly respond to such crises as others’ suicidal thoughts and panic attacks.

In Columbia this week, Alberty and his co-instructors trained teachers, counselors and administrators from K-12 schools throughout Missouri.

“Our goal is that they take this information back to their schools, to their communities, their neighborhoods, and if they see a young person distressed, they can take these skills to help that person out, and take them to the proper places where they can get the help they need to get,” Alberty said.

According to a Department of Mental Health spokesperson, today’s event is the fourth in a series of seven first-aid trainings funded through Gov. Jay Nixon’s mental health initiative. Previous events have trained faith leaders and higher education administrators. Nixon proposed the program at the State of the State address earlier this year, just a month after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.

“Teachers are on the frontlines to see mental health problems start in the classrooms," Nixon said. "Principals see these kids act out. Rather than having that cascade into a life of tragedy or danger for others, we think getting this training on the front end can make a real, lasting difference.”

Missouri’s mental health first-aid training program started in 2008. According to Alberty, the program has trained about 9,000 people in the state.