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Colts partner with American Academy of PAs to bring mental health first aid training to Indiana

The Physician Associate foundation will conduct a three-day training for 12 PAs, in hopes they will pass it on to 2,000 others.

INDIANAPOLIS — There's a new effort in the Hoosier State, aimed at kicking the stigma of mental health disorders through mental health first aid.

Right now, 83 of Indiana's 92 counties, don't have the proper mental health resources available. 

The Colts are teaming up with the American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA) to offer training to 12 Indiana-based physician assistants. The course will be three days on mental health first aid and will be administered by the Physician Associate Foundation.

"There are many, many people who are struggling, but with that comes stigma," said Lynette Sappe-Watkins, the executive director of the PA Foundation. "It's very similar to CPR. It's that, 'How do you be the bridge between a moment that is very difficult and them getting help?'"

Butler University and Indiana University are two of several colleges with faculty selected to go through the training. From there, those faculty members will provide training to students in the health field.

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"It will help students, and then future providers, then ask the question of patients or community, 'What happened to you?' rather than, 'What's wrong with you?'" said Betsy Schmidt, the program director for Butler's Physician Assistant program.

Schmidt the faculty in Butler's program has become more aware of the need to teach students that mental health is a part of a patient's overall physical health and well-being.

The faculty members will provide training to students in their programs and make training available to other health care professionals at their schools. Experts are hopeful that will lead to at least 2,000 people getting trained to help those who need it most, with training beginning as early as August. Once professionals are trained, they will then be able to go out into the community and offer classes at public spaces like libraries, where anyone can get the training.

"It covers topics like depression, anxiety and serious mental illness, and substance abuse disorder, which are all areas that affect people in their daily lives," Sappe-Watkins said.

The Colts donated $85,000 to the initiative. There is also a $30,000 investment from AAPA and grant money being used from The Indiana Center for Recovery. The funds will cover the three-day training and the books and materials needed for the 12 physician assistants to become certified mental health trainers.

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