Luther College in Decorah is now offering a 12 week course called “Mental Health First Aid.” A study by the American College Counseling Association found the mental health of freshman students at a record low in 25 years of surveys. Luther counselor Stu Johnston says that’s one of the reasons he decided to teach the course.

“One of the goals of Mental Health First Aid is to increase mental health literacy… so people are using appropriate language,they know what the signs and symptoms are,” Johnston says. He says it allows the students to talk with their friends about the issues and where they can get help, and says he believes that it helps de-stigmatize mental health issues. Stress over a new environment and pressure to do well in sports and academics, are just some of the issues new students face. Johnston says the course includes role playing and simulations and he was a little worried about how that would go over with students.

He says they were worried that students are very busy and would be excited at the start, but then the 12-hour commitment would seem too daunting. Johnston says they addressed that by making it a one credit course.

Making it a course for credit has a couple of benefits. Johnston says the course shows up on their transcript as a class and they can also list it on their resume as they get certified. He says students have been committed to the class as he has not had any drop out.

The class address the risk factors and warning signs of specific illnesses, including: anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and substance abuse. Amy Smith helps students deal with these issues at the Student Life Center on campus and says she took the course along with other staff members to refresh some of their training.

 Smith says the assessments in the class really laid everything out in a low-key way how to help her further understand all the things encompassed in the health concerns.

The Mental Health First Aid course has also been taught at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy and counseling centers in Cedar Rapids, Davenport, DeWitt, Dubuque, Iowa City and West Burlington are offering the course.

Find out more about the course here: