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Empowering Communities with Spanish Mental Health First Aid Courses

Deep in Kansas, a transformation is taking place, breaking cultural barriers and fostering open conversations about mental health.

Liberal, Kansas, achieved a significant milestone in mental health education and inclusivity. With the successful completion of a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) for Spanish-speaking Communities course, 22 Seward County residents were certified as Mental Health First Aiders. A grant from United Healthcare to Community Behavioral Health, a subsidiary of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas (ACMHCK) and a National Council for Mental Wellbeing member, made the training possible. Sue Murnane, a certified MHFA Instructor and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) provider, coordinated the workshop, which was led by MHFA Instructors Susana Hernadez and Sugiry Gaytan-Zavala.

The MHFA for Spanish-speaking Communities course in Liberal, Kansas, trained two dozen First Aiders

Karely Solis-Enriquez, an Instructor who took the Spanish-language courses, said her experience was transformative:

“The MHFA Spanish Adult and Youth courses left a lasting impact on me, especially given the significant turnout of Hispanic participants. In many Latino cultures, mental health is a sensitive topic, but seeing people take the initiative to break the stigma was inspiring. This experience provided insights into potential reactions and responses to mental health content, preparing me to teach similar content and facilitating discussion on mental health to the Hispanic community.

“Breaking down the barriers surrounding mental health in the Hispanic community is crucial. The courses fostered open conversations and created a supportive environment where participants felt comfortable discussing their own mental health and other concerns. This was a great experience, and I encourage everyone to take the course.”

Participants learned important skills, such as providing support to individuals in crisis, active listening without judgment, and using positive statements to initiate conversations about mental health. The impact was profound, empowering learners to address mental health concerns within their communities.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez, Regional Community Lead for the West Region, was grateful to the MHFA Instructors and emphasized the importance of community engagement in reaching diverse audiences. The workshops not only raised awareness but also sparked conversations and collaborations within the community. With over 130 certified Instructors across Kansas, the impact of MHFA courses continues to grow. Efforts are underway to expand MHFA courses in areas with high Hispanic populations, such as Liberal, where 40% of consumers at Southwest Guidance Center are Hispanic.

Murnane reflected on ACMHCK’s strong relationship with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. “We have a handful of Instructors that attend the MHFA Summit pre-conference annually,” she said. “Since most of the Instructors can’t attend, during our ACMHCK Annual Behavioral Health Conference, we provide a mini MHFA Summit. Every year, a representative from the National Council attends and provides an update on all things MHFA. This past year, Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council, stopped by to personally thank our Instructors.”

Monica Simpson, Sue Murnane and Celia Ruiz with Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO, National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

As the courses continue to expand, word of mouth is proving to be a powerful tool in Liberal. Murnane says more groups are reaching out to learn how ACMHCK can support their organizations and the needs of their members, communities, employees and families in Hispanic communities.

“Our Instructors do an amazing job promoting MHFA in their communities. I am always amazed by the work our Instructors and centers do to promote mental wellbeing. Every time I talk to one of our Instructors, I learn about a new project or group that they have collaborated with to provide MHFA. Frequently, workshops lead to additional workshops within the same community as information spreads quickly from participants and trainers.”

ACMHCK is committed to breaking down barriers to access for MHFA training, and they’ve found some creative ways to do so. In one course, which fell on a Sunday, they offered childcare for the children of learners. They also provided the learners with breakfast, snacks, lunch and a $25 gift card. These efforts made taking the MHFA training possible for learners, and sparked a collaborative effort by the First Aiders to keep the conversation going around mental wellbeing in their community.

Murnane plans on identifying more opportunities to fund mental health education and support their member centers, to reach as many people as possible. The workshop opportunity has helped bring attention to an area of the state that desperately needs resources and information. She plans to continue supporting Instructors, seeking additional funding sources, advocating at the Kansas state house, and making more connections with groups throughout the state to provide information on MHFA. “Educating people on the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis and knowing a simple action plan can be the difference in saving a life.”

MHFA is proud to partner with organizations that are dedicated to ongoing support and funding for mental health initiatives. Together, we can break down barriers and create a world where everyone has access to the support they need.

Ready to bring MHFA to your community? Find a course near you or get certified to be a MHFA Instructor.

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