Students practice mental health response

“I need to get that B average; otherwise, I’m going to lose my scholarships, I’m going to lose my place […]

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“I need to get that B average; otherwise, I’m going to lose my scholarships, I’m going to lose my place in this program, I’m going to lose everything,” exclaimed second-year nursing student at St. Catherine University Madi Pohl. 

Pohl participated in a recent simulation at St. Kate’s as a crisis actor portraying Casey, a student overwhelmed by anxiety. The simulation was the first of three this year intended to help students, particularly healthcare students, respond to similar situations that could arise at college and beyond. 

Krista Anderson, director of simulation at the School of Health, said an environment of increased hostility toward healthcare workers joined with recent violence on college campuses escalated the importance of providing this training. 

In the 2020-2021 academic year, more than 60 percent of college students met the criteria for one or more mental health diagnoses, a 50 percent increase from 2013, according to research on trends in college student health and help-seeking in the Journal of Affective Disorders. 

“We hear here on campus that there’s a lot of students who are struggling with mental health, whether it’s depression, whether it’s anxiety,” said Anderson. “And then you think about the news, and there’s shootings and there’s violence and there’s things happening, and we really wanted to provide some education that would apply to anybody.” 

The training, attended by about 20 students, began with a presentation on practical steps to recognize, respond and refer to a person in crisis due to high anxiety. Among them were approaching the person with a wide, open stance, using short, soft words and offering validation. 

Students were then split into groups to practice the skills they had learned with a crisis actor like Pohl, who sat turned away, one leg bobbing up and down, as she breathlessly explained the impossibility of completing the overwhelming tasks in front of her. 

Two students approached Pohl at a time, practicing different techniques to see what would be most effective in de-escalating her emotions.  

According to Anderson, simulation is growing as a method of training for healthcare students, especially since COVID-19. She said research indicates little difference in learning for students completing all clinical experiences in a professional setting versus those replacing half of them with simulations. For a small, private school like St. Kate’s, providing more learning on campus is often more practical and convenient for students. 

“You only have so many clinical sites,” said Anderson. “If we can support and create health care simulation scenarios that represent a wide variety of different types of clinical situations, we can provide those experiences internally.” 

(Source: Pioneer Press) 

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