Community

North Liberty physician assistant selected for national mental health fellowship

Three-day training focused on mental health education for general public

Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette

Melissa Gentry, a physician assistant at Meadowlark Psychiatric Services, is photographed in her office in North Liberty. Gentry was recently part of the first class of participants in the Mental Health Outreach Fellowship, established by the American Academy of Physician Assistants, which enables fellows to teach the Mental Health First Aid curriculum within their local communities.
Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette Melissa Gentry, a physician assistant at Meadowlark Psychiatric Services, is photographed in her office in North Liberty. Gentry was recently part of the first class of participants in the Mental Health Outreach Fellowship, established by the American Academy of Physician Assistants, which enables fellows to teach the Mental Health First Aid curriculum within their local communities.

Some people know how to identify signs of a heart attack or a stroke, and what to do in response. You call 911, perhaps perform CPR.

But what if that person is having an anxiety attack? Or a person is in acute psychosis or experiencing a substance abuse disorder?

How can the average person approach them and offer help?

A North Liberty-based psychiatric physician assistant hopes to help non-health care professionals in Eastern Iowa learn how to help others after recently completing an intensive training course meant to help the general public better understand mental health.

Melissa Gentry, a physician assistant (PA) at Meadowlark Psychiatric Services, returned to Iowa on Thursday after spending three days in Alexandria, Va., as a part of the first-ever Mental Health Outreach Fellowship.

The PA Foundation — the philanthropic arm of the American Academy of Physician Assistants — facilitated the fellowship to offer instructor training in Mental Health First Aid,

Created in 2001, Mental Health First Aid is a course meant to help members of the public identify mental health disorders and substance use disorders in others and to teach them how seek intervention for that individual.

“We are looking forward in ways in which we as a profession and as individual health care providers in our communities can lead the way for improving mental health awareness and decreasing and eliminating a stigma,” Gentry said.

Gentry was one of 16 individuals from around the country, which included one student and 15 practicing PAs, selected as the first ever-cohort for the training. The fellows received community instructor training over the three-day period, and in return, the 16 PAs will “conduct community outreach and training to a minimum of 100 people over the course of the following year,” according to the PA Foundation’s website.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it was estimated in 2016 about 18 percent of all U.S. adults aged 18 or older have a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder.

Of those individuals, about 43 percent seek mental health treatment.

Part of that, Gentry said, can be attributed to a lack of understanding or a stigma against mental health disorders. Mental Health First Aid aims to decrease that.

“The real purpose is to increase awareness and decrease stigma and increase our ability to help one another in times of crisis,” Gentry said.

Gentry, who is an Ollie resident, said she hopes to spread the message that mental health conditions are like just like any other health problem. People have depression because chemicals in their brain aren’t working quite right, just as people get diabetes because their pancreas isn’t in the best shape, she said.

“It’s still a health condition and it’s important to recognize and treat,” Gentry said. “It’s not something to be ashamed about and be afraid to talk about.”

Fellows each received a $1,250 stipend for their participation in the program, according to the fellowship’s website.

Gentry said there are no solid plans for the next steps of the fellowship. However, she is certain she’ll bring what she learned to the University of Dubuque, where she teaches PA students part-time.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I’m hoping to teach our PA students so at the very beginning of their career, they understand the importance of recognizing mental health conditions and helping people that are in crisis,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.