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Mental Health in Veteran and Rural Communities

Think that rural communities don’t face mental health challenges? Nothing could be further from the truth. Maybe it’s because we are small, unseen and misunderstood that people are unaware of the issues we face, or needs we have. But they’re similar to – or even the same as – those faced by every other community in America. A rural communities’ mental health needs can be overwhelming.

That is why Mental Health First Aid is so important to us.

Although Bridgeway Inc. is a small community social service agency, we are trying to make a big impact in our surrounding communities. We offer Mental Health First Aid trainings for anyone and everyone.  Our goals are to create greater awareness surrounding mental health challenges and reduce the unwarranted stigma attached to them. If nothing else, we want our communities to talk about mental health.

Bridgeway has been lucky to provide Mental Health First Aid trainings via a grant through the Illinois Department of Human Services. At the request of the state of Illinois, Bridgeway provided Mental Health First Aid trainings to all the veteran service officers (VSOs) in the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs at the beginning of 2017. Our staff hosted five courses and trained 70 VSOs.

“Mental Health First Aid training is critical to the success of our mission in helping us appropriately respond to veterans plagued with mental health challenges,” said Erica Jeffries, director of the IDVA, upon completing the training. “It not only ensures that our veterans will receive the customer service they deserve, but also helps safeguard our VSOs in potentially contentious situations. Above all, it equips our VSOs with resources to better help us serve our Illinois heroes.”

As a participant in the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Health Matters Initiative, Bridgeway is constantly communicating the importance of mental health issues and Mental Health First Aid. We have been successful in incorporating the Mental Health First Aid training into the blueprint and goals for our community, working to train as many people as possible.

To date, Bridgeway has trained more than 1,200 individuals in the Youth and Adult modules of Mental Health First Aid. We continue to schedule new trainings every week and are excited by the turnout of every training we host. Just because we are rural doesn’t mean we are not making an impact. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Stacy Brown is the Vice President of Behavioral Health Services with Bridgeway Inc. in Illinois. She is a licensed mental health counselor in Florida and a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Illinois.  Stacy is also a certified Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid Instructor, joining the other four Mental Health First Aid trainers at Bridgeway!

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