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Carle launches rural-focused Mental Health First Aid training

Carle launches rural-focused Mental Health First Aid training

Carle's new Seeds of Wellness project focuses on mental health awareness and actionWhat started out as an email from an employee to Carle President and CEO James Leonard, MD, blossomed into an essential project to help address behavioral health issues. 

Seeds of Wellness, a project that's only a small part of Carle’s overall Behavioral Health efforts, seeks to improve awareness and increase the use of non-acute behavioral health resources with a focus on farmers and veterans.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's numbers for deaths by suicide in rural areas, and specifically farmers carved out of that rural population, is increasing,” said Linda Culton, LCSW, clinical supervisor for Resolutions Employee Assistance Program. “Usually 30 days prior to someone dying by suicide, they had contact with a professional, but it wasn’t a mental health professional.”

Culton knew people were hungry to know more about mental health because, while it touches everyone’s lives, few talk about it.

To change that, Carle partnered in March with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a program of the National Council of Behavioral Health, to place trainers within our service areas to teach the public how to recognize and support those who may have a behavioral health or substance abuse issue. To register for an eight-hour class provided by Carle and Health Alliance trainers, please visit

“Because mental health affects many of us in some way, we are aware of the stigma in reaching out for help,” Culton said. “To me, that’s what Mental Health First Aid classes are about.” 

Culton was quite the advocate in getting the MHFA training at Carle, but she wasn’t alone. Kim Summers, Human Resources employee experience manager, and Erin Duncan, wellness coordinator, also backed Culton after taking the training in Bloomington.

“Often, friends, family, peers and people serving others don’t know how to approach these sensitive situations. They don’t know what to say or do, how to listen without judgment, or how to assess for self-harm,” Summers said. “This training helps to change that and makes others aware of what people experience and how anyone is capable of helping someone else.”

In the first round of instructor training earlier this year, 15 trainers took part in a three-day course at Carle at The Fields to become MHFA instructors. The trainers included both Health Alliance and Carle employees from Champaign-Urbana, Mattoon, Hoopeston and Olney, as well as employees from Rural Alliance Partners in Monticello and Paris.

“The trainers, and therefore the people they will go out and teach, learn the basic definitions of mental health, what various mental health problems look like, and how to make sure you don’t assume that if someone looks sad, acts nervous or panicked, that it’s a mental health problem. It could be a medical health problem, so they are taught some entry-level-type questions to ask,” Culton said.

“Then, they learn the Mental Health First Aid five-step action plan, ALGEE.”

Following the instructor training, each trainer must provide at least three MHFA classes in the coming year, open to both public and private audiences depending on interest. Carle supports these trainers with materials, an online registration platform and other ongoing support – all through Seeds of Wellness and funded by Carle Health Center for Philanthropy and Carle Behavioral Health.

The MHFA team estimates that within the first year, the three-day instructor training could result in up to 720 people throughout central Illinois trained in Mental Health First Aid. There may even be room in the future to open up more instructor courses; though at this point, the priority is getting the message out to the community.

“Training others, and spreading this knowledge and confidence, will help so many people to make lives and our community healthier and happier,” Summers said.

To register for an open class, go to or email with questions.

Categories: Community

Tags: abuse, behavioral health, Carle, classes, giving, health, mental, Rural Health and Farm Safety, substance, trainers