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NMSU’s Crimson Research receives mental health training grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation

Crimson Research, a center housed in New Mexico State University’s College of Health and Social Services, has received a grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation to continue work connecting professional staff in Otero County to different types of mental health training.

Photo of two men in a hallway
Isaac Lucero, right, a scenario-based training actor with MoBu Creative, plays the part of a college student contemplating suicide while the responding officer, James Watts of the Alamogordo Police Department, speaks with him to de-escalate any immediate danger and to try to connect him to mental health services. Crimson Research, housed in New Mexico State University’s College of Health and Social Services, has received a grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation to continue work in increasing mental health training among public safety personnel in Otero County. (NMSU photo courtesy of Michele Banner)

Entirely externally funded, Crimson Research provides comprehensive program implementation, program evaluation, survey design and basic or applied research services to community, academic and government organizations.

Michele Banner, primary investigator on the project, received the nearly $75,000 grant under the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s Think.Change initiative for the project, titled “Fostering Community Partnerships and Education to Reduce Mental Illness Stigma in Otero County.”

Now in its second year, the project continues work from the first year, during which mental health training was provided to first responders, detention center personnel, health care providers, justice advocates and public school staff. The second year will expand reach to those in contact with youth and veterans. These two groups comprise nearly 35 percent of Otero County’s population. Additional training will be provided to selected staff from Holloman Air Force Base, Alamogordo Public Schools, Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, the Otero County Detention Center, Alamogordo Police Department and Otero County Sheriff’s Office. These individuals will become instructors creating self-sustaining programs.

The second year of the project will expand its reach to those in contact with youth and veterans, and provide additional training to public safety officials to become instructors, creating a self-sustaining program. Mental Health First Aid, or MHFA, and Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, trainings are two types of training that have been provided so far. MHFA teaches how to assist or intervene in a mental health crisis and how to link individuals afflicted with mental illness to appropriate professional help. The CIT model is a collaborative training program designed to connect law enforcement officials with the community health system. So far, 131 people have received mental health education with the help of Crimson Research’s Think.Change grant.

“These trained professionals encounter the citizens of Otero County in the course of their work, armed with the skills to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness, de-escalate crisis situations and connect individuals to services,” Banner said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 17,000 New Mexicans have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and 35,000 have been diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder. Nearly half of those diagnosed with these disorders are untreated. And according to New Mexico’s Indicator-Based Information System, in 2014 New Mexico’s suicide rate was the highest it had been in two decades. In 2016, the state reported the fourth-highest suicide rate in the country. Banner said that according to New Mexico’s Indicator-Based Information System, Otero County ranks higher than the New Mexico average for age-adjusted suicide deaths, suicides among 10- to 24-year-olds, youth-attempted suicide and adult-attempted suicide.

“This underscores the need for increased effort in diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in New Mexico, particularly in more rural areas such as Otero County where resources and access to care may be limited, and youth and veterans make up more than one-third of the population,” Banner said.

In addition, grant funding will also help support community education by providing books, supplies and training materials.

“Being able to tell an agency that we can provide these items as well as instructors, and all they have to do is send participants, greatly relieves the burden of having to orchestrate a training themselves and makes it more likely that these trainings will take place sooner rather than later,” Banner said. “This work could not have been completed without funding from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation. The agencies involved, particularly law enforcement, schools and the detention center, simply do not have the funds to send out employees to become instructors. Tuition for one person to become an instructor is often $2,000 to $3,000 for a three- to five-day class. Creating in-house instructors ensures sustainability of the work of the grant once the grant is over.”

The Paso del Norte Health Foundation leads, leverages and invests in initiatives, programs and policies to promote health and prevent disease in the Paso del Norte region. The Paso del Norte Health Foundation was established in 1995 from the sale of Providence Memorial Hospital to Tenet Healthcare Corporation, and seeks to ensure that the people living in far west Texas, southern New Mexico and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico have the knowledge, resources and skills to lead healthy lives.