MHFA Trainers Gina DeMent, Meredith Peffley Receive National Recognition

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Community Engagement Specialists Gina DeMent of Five County and Meredith Peffley of Alamance-Caswell were recognized at the National Council for Behavioral Health's Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor Summit as Top 100 Trainers of All Time for each teaching more than 100 courses.

MHFA is an eight-hour course that teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. The training covers the skills needed to provide initial help and support to someone developing a mental health or substance use problem or who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. Peffley and DeMent are among more than 12,000 instructors who have helped train over 1 million people in the United States since the program began. DeMent said she's taught over 130 courses and Peffley has taught 100.

“MHFA has reduced the stigma associated with mental illness in our communities. Our community talks much more openly about mental health concerns and how we can better collaborate, support and reach out to someone experiencing a crisis," DeMent said. “By intervening early and helping people access treatment as soon as possible, there is a greater likelihood that an individual will achieve recovery and stave off long-term mental illness or substance abuse."

DeMent said being recognized for teaching MHFA makes her feel like the work she is doing is helping others.

“It means that maybe I have made a difference in the lives of people in my community–that I have helped reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and substance abuse and have moved people toward recovery, which will ultimately create happier and healthier individuals, their families and their communities," she said.

Peffley said what she tries to impart to students in her MHFA classes is that everyone has the skills to save a life using MHFA. “We all know innately how to respond appropriately in a crisis situation and we have all the ability to have empathy but, for some, these skills have not been reinforced as we become adults," she said. MHFA can help build the confidence needed to intervene and try to offer help to someone in need.

Peffley said she grew up with a mom who was a nurse and ran a psychiatric out-patient office for 20 years. “I saw first-hand how this office took a back seat," Peffley said, adding that other health specialties seemed to get more attention. Seeing that drives her desire improve the lives of those with mental illness or substance use disorder.

“As we know, behavioral health is the key to unlocking the mysteries of a human being if we just take a moment and get to know them, where they are and who they are, and not where we think they should be," she said.

DeMent and Peffley said they didn't set out to win awards, but rather just to share what they know with as many people as possible so those people can go out and help others either by intervening in a crisis or by sharing what they've learned and breaking down the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.

“I focus on working with organizations to change the culture, not just to train a few people," Peffley said. “Once you get them to look at the culture in a different way, the pieces will fall into place and you won't have to beg for people to come to your trainings, they will come to you."

DeMent said she takes a similar approach with organizations, and added, “It is not about me but about them–those who take the time and effort to want to learn. I try to work hard to prepare each class, think about the group I am teaching, and find current examples that will grab their attention."

DeMent said she wants to get the class excited so they leave with ideas and hopes and continue to talk about what they learned with their friends, family, community and co-workers.
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