UM Professor Earns Grant to Create Mental Health Trainings for Rural Communities

May 10, 2016

MISSOULA - Rural communities have unique characteristics that affect the ability to meet the mental health needs of children. Thanks to a University of Montana seed grant, Lindsey Nichols, assistant professor in the Department of Counselor Education, will develop new and improved mental health facilitation training and implementation models that can be adapted to meet the unique needs of rural communities across Montana.

Working with UM Assistant Professor of Psychology Anisa Goforth, Nichols will use the funding to assist in improving awareness, knowledge and skills training for pre- and in-service PK-12 educators.

According to the American Counseling Association, rural communities in Montana - which often maintain a fear of prejudice and stigma associated with mental health care - also face the added challenge of significant geographic distances to quality, consistent mental health professionals and services.

"After traveling to various schools and conferences and consistently hearing from Montana educators that they need more information about addressing social/emotional issues, I'm excited for the opportunity to develop a curriculum to address those needs," Nichols said. "We want to create an accessible, sustainable and relevant training for our unique communities to empower people to better understand and respond to mental health needs in their professional roles."

The project aims to have important implications in the fields of education as well as mental health. There is a current trend in education whereby educators are recognizing that schools can provide both academic and social-emotional support to children as they prepare for college and/or career readiness. Educators are recognizing that if a child experiences mental health distress, they are not likely building academic skills in mathematics or reading. Similarly, policymakers have recognized that addressing mental health through social-emotional curricula should be an integral part of educational curricula.

"Our Montana schools and teachers are responding to many student needs, including student mental health," said Kirsten Murray, chair of the UM Department of Counselor Education. "What's great about Drs. Nichols and Goforth's work is that it prepares teachers with basic mental health skills, and our students benefit. Holistically attentive teachers and supportive environments do amazing things for learning."

To learn more about the Improving Educators' Understanding of Rural Children's Mental Health grant or the Department of Counselor Education at UM, call Nichols at 406-243-5820 or email lindsey.nichols@mso.umt.edu.

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Contact: Peter Knox, communications manager, UM Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, 406-243-4911, peter.knox@mso.umt.edu.