News Releases and Media Advisories

Kansas Trainings Teach Emotional Coping Strategies Following Disasters

For Immediate Release

August 23, 2021

For more information, contact:
Kay Burnett at Kburnett@mhasck.org
Stacy Davis at sdavis@mhah.org

Two Kansas mental health advocacy, education, and support organizations are offering  15 virtual or in-person training programs to parents, caregivers, school staff, K-12  students, and community organizations in 70 counties to help them cope with the  mental impact of experiencing and surviving a natural disaster. Outreach and service  provision for the program, known as “Strong Communities for Trying Times,” is shared  by the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas MHASCK) and Mental Health America of the Heartland (MHAH).  

“While the federal grant we received was not initially designed to address the “disaster”  of the pandemic, the need for clear information, strategies to cope with disasters of all  types, and ways to build resilience in the face of difficulty, has only increased due to  COVID-19,” Susan Lewis, MSSW, MHAH president/CEO said. “The need for and impact of these sessions is profound, and we are pleased at the partnerships that have  enabled these services to be delivered in our communities.” 

Kay Burnett, MHASCK director of prevention and monitoring, explained, “Our goal is to  help participants identify mental health resources available in their community and to  help them feel more comfortable seeking help if needed.” 

bhworks, the comprehensive, validated software platform from mdlogix, is the technology that establishes online training registration, generates new pre- and post evaluation forms, collects and stores those responses, and produces a certificate of  completion.

The Kansas Department of Aging & Disabilities Services (KDADS) worked with Drexel  University’s Center for Family Intervention Science and the two MHAs last August to  write and submit an application for a federal disaster relief grant from the Substance  Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The one-year funding  was awarded in September 2020. The project is focused on improving the mental health  of children and adolescents affected by natural disasters in 2019, including tornadoes and flooding. These weather events created damage in 70 of 105 Kansas counties,  most of which exist in rural or frontier areas.

Program activities are supporting the development and implementation of a school based comprehensive plan of strategies that provide training, education and technology  to school districts, mental health providers, and community members. 

Training course descriptions and schedules are posted on the newly-established  website, the Behavioral Health Learning Collaborative (BHLC) of Kansas, bhlcofks.org. Burnett said popular school sessions in her region include “Positive Minds” for 4th and  5th graders and high school students, which helps them mentally deal with difficult  issues. For adults, such as teachers and parents, a popular session is “Disorders, Not  Bad Behaviors,” which helps people identify what is a typical behavior or normal  response to a disaster versus a mental health disorder in children and teens. 

In the Heartland region, “Positive Minds” is popular among middle and high schoolers,  as is “A.N.S.W.E.R.” (Adolescents Never Suicide When Everyone Responds), which  focuses on depression, anxiety and suicide and promotes help seeking. “QPR”  (Question, Persuade, Respond), which focuses on suicide prevention, has been  particularly popular among school staff in that same region. 

MHA staff contact schools, community organizations like the Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls  Clubs, and nonprofits. The two MHAs meet twice a month to compare notes and share  updates. The curriculum each MHA provides mirrors the other, conducting the same  training sessions and issuing the same evaluation forms.

Outreach starts with an email and after a week they follow up with either a phone call or  email. On the third attempt, they either call or send a letter. Burnett suggests patience in  outreach efforts as it takes fostering relationships to get responses, and to be cognizant  of how often you are contacting them. 

“We have stretched our community outreach to include sites that we had not previously  considered, including domestic violence shelters, rehabilitation centers, foster care  sites, and colleges and tech schools,” Burnett said. “These are groups that weren’t  initially on our radar but they have been extremely receptive.”

Popular sessions with community groups are “QPR” and “More than Sad,” a course that  teaches adults how to manage teen depression and anxiety.

With bhworks, participants are able to register for training and complete an evaluation  for each session. There are approximately 10 questions on the assessment forms,  asking, for example, “Are you more likely to seek help now that you have completed this  session?”

Because of their age, kindergarten to 3rd grade students do not complete evaluations.

The program has encountered some challenges since its inception as COVID  restrictions and on-line schooling at times complicated outreach and scheduling. 

Lewis noted, “The staff of both MHAs are to be commended on their persistence,  creativity, and flexibility, as well as their commitment to do whatever it takes to get this  important information to our parents, teachers, kids and communities.” 

“I do believe it’s working. It’s great we are able to do things virtually, but technology can  present challenges,” Burnett added. “WiFi can be unreliable, kids turn their camera off,  or the audio isn’t clear when participants are in a big room. Providing the courses in  person is ideal because we can better gauge learning.” 

Despite challenges, the MHAs of Kansas set a goal for the two regions to train 1,250  people each by the end of October 2021. As of August 10, that goal was exceeded and  more than 2,800 people have taken a training session. 

KDADS requested a 9-month, no-cost extension of the SAMHSA grant, which ends in  October 2021, to finish work that is underway. The request was recently accepted and  now the grant will extend through June 30, 2022.