PA-Led Mental Health Training Can Help Educate Public

PA Students: Attend Mental Health First Aid SPARK Session at AAPA 2018

May 17, 2018

By Kate Maloney

Mental health is an important part of any human’s well-being, and the mental health community devotes the month of May to increasing the public’s awareness of the important role it plays in all of our lives. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, each year, more than one in five Americans experiences a mental illness. Yet, they say, “as a society, we remain largely ignorant about the signs and symptoms.”

In 2018, the PA Foundation, with support from Takeda and AAPA, launched the Mental Health Outreach Fellowship, a program developed to train PAs as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructors. Upon their completion of the training, PAs are certified to teach the MHFA course in their communities and educate the public on what to look for, how to respond, and how to help someone who is experiencing symptoms of mental illness or in a mental health crisis.

Deanna Najera. PA-C

Deanna Bridge Najera, MPAS, MS, PA-C, NCC, has taken the Mental Health First Aid course, and Susan Salahshor, PhD, PA-C, DFAAPA, is certified as an instructor of the course. “[PAs as instructors for the class] is a perfect fit. We are adept educators who teach our patients every day when we discuss diagnoses and treatments,” Najera says. While teaching the curriculum, Salahshor has discovered that the public responds positively to her PA background and expertise. As a healthcare professional herself, she encourages class participants to understand and realize that they, too, “can have [a positive] impact by recognizing when someone is exhibiting signs of a mental health crisis and encourag[ing]  appropriate self- and professional help strategies.”

Susan Salahshor, PA-C

Salahshor says she enjoyed learning the Mental Health First Aid curriculum, and that leading the class in her community is a deeply rewarding experience as well. As an instructor, she “realize[s] the great need the community has…to remove stigma about mental health by talking about it, teaching about it, and advocating for more resources, better resources.” She finds herself inspired by the MHFA participants, and she is more sensitive and aware of the people around her.

PAs have the foundational success tools to be effective mental health advocates in their communities.  They teach their patients each day, they are highly educated medical professionals, they are on the frontlines of patient care, and they are adept non-judgmental listeners. Recognizing this, the PA Foundation has made mental health a programmatic priority, and is working to empower the PA community to address mental health needs. This fall, the Foundation will offer a mental health-focused IMPACT Grant cycle to support PA-led projects designed to improve mental health education and health outcomes. In addition, the PA Foundation is hosting a SPARK session at AAPA 2018 to introduce the topic of Mental Health First Aid to the PA student audience. Salahshor, along with Amber Buzzi, PA-C, and Jacqueline Spiegel, MS, PA-C, DFAAPA, will lead the session on Sunday, May 20 in New Orleans.

Najera emphasizes that PAs practice in almost every medical specialty and are uniquely positioned to recognize mental health conditions in a variety of settings. Plastic surgery, dermatology, rheumatology, and neurology are just a handful of practice areas Najera lists when discussing how mental health can “influence many other health outcomes.” She is a believer that “you cannot separate mental health from physical health.” PAs should look for opportunities to educate themselves on mental health, she says, as it “provides better care for the whole patient.”

Join AAPA and the PA Foundation at AAPA 2018 to meet other PAs who practice in mental health fields, and help advance this important area of healthcare.

Kate Maloney is AAPA’s senior manager of corporate communications. Contact her at [email protected].