Meet the Team, Part 5: Alyssa!

As you’re getting settled into a brand new week, we have some exciting news to share with you – we have a new staff member here at MHFACO! We could think of no better way to start off a Monday morning than to introduce you to Alyssa, our awesome new intern. In her blog posts, she’ll be sharing stories of mental health and substance use. She’s excited to share her own stories, but she also wants to involve you, the readers. She wants to post your stories too, as she know there are many untold stories that should be shared. So, take a few minutes out of your morning to get to know Alyssa!

Alyssa

Name: Alyssa Arnpriester

Role: Intern

Hometown: Arvada, Colorado

Favorite color: Black

What brought you to Mental Health First Aid Colorado? Reason 1: I think it is important to talk about mental health and illnesses. I would like to gain more knowledge on how to talk to both strangers and people who are close to me about mental health and illness. I want to be able to give people who are struggling with a mental health illness and drug abuse the resources they can use. Reason 2: I would like to help get the word out and that there are people and organizations that can help people who are struggling with mental illness. I do not like the stigma surrounding these topics. I think it is important to have conversations about them and to try to help people who may need it. Reason 3: I am majoring in criminal justice and psychology at UNC. I need an internship to complete my degree, and what better way to do it than here? I am not sure in what direction I want to go in at the moment. I am hoping I will find my direction here working at Mental Health First Aid Colorado.

What is your favorite part about working here? So far, everyone has been very nice and helpful. They are all willing to answer any questions I have and they are willing to help with any problems I may be having. It is great to have an opportunity to work with people who want to help people realize that it is okay to have depression, anxiety, bipolar, or any other mental health illness. I can’t wait to get started and be a part of the group.

Describe a time when you used MHFA or YMHFA strategies: I have many friends and family members that have mental health and substance abuse issues. There is no one story that is more important than the next. Describing just one instance is almost impossible because I can share so many experiences.

If you could assign a superpower to ALGEE the Koala, what would it be?  Ummm… I think it would be cool if it had the power to change into other animals, so it can turn into a person’s favorite animal when they are feeling low.

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Behind the Scenes at MHFACO: News and Noteworthy Events

Hello LifeLiners, FirstAiders and anyone who accidentally ended up on our blog!

As a reminder, each month I will write about some big developments at Mental Health First Aid Colorado (MHFACO). Recently, we attended two major events. On May 19th, we had the annual Stepping Up for Our Communities Event to honor National Children’s Mental Health Day and National Mental Health Awareness Month. Then the following night, the team braved the weather at the Rockies game for Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council’s Night at the Rockies.

At the annual training event, we had over 90 individuals trained in-person in youth and adult MHFA and an additional 90 plus trained across the state at six different spoke events. A big thanks to Southeast Mental Health Group, Centennial Mental Health Center, AspenPointe, The Center for Mental Health and Jefferson Center for Mental Health for hosting spoke events across the state that day. The event also featured a fantastic keynote address from Curt Drennen, Outreach Program Manager, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, where he discussed stress and how the body and mind react to stressful situations.

During lunch, we all had the privilege to hear touching first hand stories from the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health Youth Essay Contest first place (Sydney Lacy) and second place (Chris Maclean) winners, as well as Children’s Hospital Youth Action Board Member, Kelsey Briding. All three spoke eloquently about how mental illness had impacted their lives and through the telling of their stories, literally reduced stigma before our eyes. As a bonus, they will also be featured guest bloggers, along with the third place essay contest winner, Christopher Glenn Watterud.

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All in all, an amazing way to spend a Tuesday!

The next night, the team manned a booth at the Rockies game. Since we were playing the Philadelphia Phillies, we reached out to our partners at the Philadelphia Mental Health First Aid office to see if we could cross promote the event. We are proud to lead the efforts in Colorado, but it is important to remember that MHFA is a national movement and program. The team in Philly does some amazing work, and they came through and shared all kinds of informational giveaways and goodies. We even made a little wager on the outcome of the game.

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While it didn’t work out for us this time, we did get to meet a lot of fans and spread the word about our programs. As always, feel free to drop us a line at registration@mhfaco.org, check out the website at www.mhfaco.org, or leave a comment below.


Tony Barkey is the Statewide Program Coordinator for Mental Health First Aid Colorado. To hear more from Tony, enter your email in the “Follow” box at the right or check out his earlier post here.

Trigger Warning: PTSD, Rape, and the Media

I remember vividly the first rape scene I saw on television. I was 9 years old, home alone surfing channels when I stumbled upon the incredibly disturbing, sexually violent scene. My hand was frozen on the remote, fearful of and in shock of the images on the screen. I could not understand why someone would do that to another person, or what that pain and violation must feel like. It was a kind of violence unknown to me, at the time. I remember being unable to sleep that night.

This past Monday, I was catching up on the current season of Game of Thrones. I’ve learned to expect plenty of fighting and the occasional beheading, so I try not to get too attached to characters. A more disturbing theme I’ve begun to notice throughout the show however, is the prevalence of rape.

This season alone has included multiple scenes of attempted or completed rape. Episode 6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” featured a highly disturbing scene in which Sansa Stark was raped by her new husband Ramsey. The scene passed the point of suggestive and left little to the imagination, showing Sansa’s clothes being torn off, panning out the final shot of the episode with the sounds of her struggle in the background as a servant looked on and watched. If that didn’t fill in the gaps enough for you, the following episode showed Sansa again covered in bruises and cuts.

Years later, I am reminded of the overwhelming feelings I felt as a 9 year old watching that scene. Only now, I watch with a personal understanding of what that violence looks and feels like. Even with the volume on mute, the scene left me distraught and disturbed. Once again I found myself unable to sleep, my mind reeling over emotions and memories.

Sexual violence is not new to Game of Thrones, however. Rape is normalized on the show, woven into the plotline as a tactic of war, a right of husbands and brothers, and demonstration of domination and ownership. Someone actually quantified sexual violence on the show, and totaled 50 instances of rape and 29 victims of sexual violence to date. Something about this particular incident really struck a chord with me.

Absent from the show are details of the survivor’s recovery, or legal or moral ramifications for the perpetrators or the victims. Instances of brutal violence are witnessed and seemingly forgotten about. Yet, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a reality for survivors of rape, with the chances stacked high at 50-90% (Population Reports: Ending Violence Against Women, 2000.)

The instances of sexual violence featured on the show are not explored in detail, integrated into character development, or examined more closely later, but rather exist as standalone events. Not only are these violent images reinforcing concepts of sexual objectification, domination and subversion, but they are triggering for survivors. Detailed and explicit sexually violent images—as well as sounds, sights, smells, stories, visuals– can remind a survivor of their assault and may elicit symptoms of PTSD. A more sensitive depiction of sexual violence is needed, and not just in Game of Thrones. Audiences must demand more from the media, to be thoughtful about the way sexual violence is used as entertainment and what effects it may have on real life survivors.


Megan Staudenraus is a Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaison at Mental Health First Aid Colorado. Be sure to read (or reread) her previous post here for more information on this important topic.

A Song in Your Head: Connecting Music and Mental Health

Okay, so here’s where we’re at. It’s Friday. Tomorrow starts a long weekend (for most). You’re feeling the afternoon slump. We’re with you. So, as your afternoon pick-me-up, take a few minutes to connect with Emily Haller, one of our Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaisons, on the connections between music and mental health! No cute dog photos here, but there may or may not be a song at the end to send you into the weekend.


Close your eyes. [Okay, so you’ll probably have to read the paragraph first before you close them, unless you’re taking a mini nap, which is totally cool too]. As you close your eyes, I want you to think of YOUR song. You know, the one that rattles around your head when you’re not thinking about anything else. The one that your coworkers probably know by heart too because you hum it all the time. The one you absentmindedly flip on when you can’t seem to shake a bad day. It’s okay if you’re thinking of several, as you might find that each situation calls for a specific set of tunes. A solo dance party as you’re getting ready in the morning might sound different than the end of a stressful day at work.

Try to play one of your selections in your head. If it helps, you can even turn it on in the background as you read. Now think: what is it that makes this my song? Maybe it was it the people you were with when you first heard it. Maybe you listened to it on repeat on your favorite trip. Maybe there is no specific reason except that it makes you smile every time. Regardless, it’s yours.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m asking you to think about music for a blog about mental health. That’s a fair question, as it might seem like a stretch. I promise, it’s a stronger connection than it might seem like at first. I studied music and psychology in college and I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of the two, especially the ability of music to impact and often improve a person’s psychological well-being.

Few things surround us or occupy our environment in the way music does. In fact, the average American spends over four hours a day listening to some form of audio. This probably isn’t surprising considering how quickly you came up with a song just a few moments ago. Music doesn’t have to just come out of a speaker either – think about the incredible music made by birds in the morning, rain hitting a roof, or waves crashing on the shore. It’s all around if you just listen.

Anecdotally, we could talk about the impact of music on our well-being all day. You know how much better you feel when that song comes on the radio. The most exciting part though? The research agrees. Music has been shown to benefit our physical and mental well-being in countless ways – everything from relieving stress and symptoms or depression to improving sleep quality. And, there’s even an entire field of study and practice dedicated to this important connection. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals.” Using music to address the whole person, now how amazing is that? I agree, SO amazing.

Luckily, the benefits and importance of music are far too numerous to fit in one blog post, and I can’t wait to have more conversations with you about music and mental health. In the meantime, I challenge you to continue to find your music and find out why it’s yours. Whether it’s a music therapy session, a really beautiful bird call, or hearing your favorite song on the radio at the store (go ahead, dance in the aisle), it’s yours, and that’s what matters most.

And, in case you need a send-off to Saturday, here’s one that’s rattling in my head today. Plus, meaningful Colorado-filmed music videos are the best kinds of music videos. Happy Weekend!

Tomorrow is the day and YOU can still register!

The day for what, you may ask? A fabulous question. Tomorrow is our annual Stepping Up For Our Communities Event – a celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month and Children’s Mental Health Day!

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What we’re most excited to share with you though is that you can still register today! We have space left in both the Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid courses, and we’d love to see you there. Also, events like these are always more fun with a friend, so please share the love (and the registration links). Please click the appropriate link below to register:

Youth Mental Health First Aid

Adult Mental Health First Aid

When:  Tuesday, May 19, 2015

7:30 am Registration, 8:00 am – 5:30 pm Event

Where:  Arapahoe Community College, 5900 S. Santa Fe Dr., Littleton, CO 80120

We can’t wait to see you there!

Special thanks to our Youth Logo Contest Winner, Dennis H. for the awesome event logo at the top.

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This event was developed under the grant 1H79SM061884-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.

What do the behaviors we see in our students mean? Part 2

We’re guessing you were waiting for it, so here it is: Part 2 of Evan Page’s post about the behaviors we see in our students! In case you want a refresher, here’s where you can find Part 1. Thanks again, Evan!


I spent a few years working at a specialized residential treatment center. Our typical student had been struggling significantly in the home and at school. They had bounced from outpatient therapy to other residential centers and wilderness boot camps before coming to us. To get to that level of care, the behaviors have to be really rocking the boat especially in terms of relationships.

The students worked hard to keep distance between themselves and people who tried to help- and they were very good at it. Cussing, disrespect, and a general “screw you” attitude was fairly pervasive and, if you allowed yourself to get caught up in the onslaught on the surface, it would be easy to become hardened and resentful, building your own walls for protection.

However, I was able to avoid that trap each time by remembering their history and looking at the background that formed their lens. Abandonment, abuse, and neglect and the earliest of ages, when their lens was most vulnerable, formed a worldview that people were unsafe– even, and especially, those that said they wanted to help.

I share this to clean up your lens a bit. To wipe off that little smudge left by a former collogue, student, or bully from your past and to allow a clearer picture of what is happening. Our clients, students, and families are hurting in our communities. They have difficult home lives, lots of stress, little support, and feel insecure about who they are and their value to us. When we are able to have a clear understanding, we can have a softer heart and a more gentle approach. And that is what they really need.


Evan Page has specialized in providing therapy for families and teens struggling with trauma, attachment disorder, and mood regulation issues. Evan is currently a therapist with North Range Behavioral Health, serving as the School-Based Engagement Specialist.

Faith and Mental Health: A Natural Connection

If the snow this past weekend has you a little confused, don’t worry. We’re feeling it too. Regardless of Colorado’s weather, it is still May, which means we are still celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month and preparing for Stepping Up For Our Communities! As you’re thawing out this Monday morning, we hope you’ll take a few minutes to connect with Rikke Siersbaek, Program Associate at Mental Health First Aid Colorado, on the crucial connection between faith and mental health!


The intersection of mental health and faith is a busy place. For some, mental health challenges are made easier by their faith but for others their faith stands in the way of truly understanding mental illness and treatment options. Research shows that the most common source of help for people developing mental health issues is clergy, not mental health professionals.

Sometimes this is a good thing – in fact sometimes faith leaders are the first to see a change in a congregant and might help steer the person toward recovery. And a study from 2012 showed that “people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without belief.” However, other faith leaders dismiss mental illness as spiritual weakness and recommend prayer and religious study as the only solution.

The challenge that mental health advocates face, then, is to encourage people’s faith to be a part of their recovery because we know that it helps. But at the same time, it is important to continually work to reduce stigma and promote expanded knowledge of mental illness and its many causes among clergy and congregants alike.

Mental Health First Aid is one tool faith communities can use to expand basic mental health literacy and learn the how to help. Around the country, many clergy and lay people have been trained in Mental Health First Aid adding practical skills to complement their spiritual abilities. In one pastor, Nathan Krause’s, experience, MHFA has empowered him and the lay members of his congregation’s health ministry. When talking to MHFA US he said that he and his congregants feel like: “I do have something to offer. I can understand this at my level.” And he says, “when you have the actual tools and resources for additional help at hand, it makes a world of difference. Mental Health First Aid is a real powerful tool in the hands of church members to enhance their skills and ability to offer a health ministry.”

In Colorado, we are lucky to have hundreds of fabulous MHFA and YMHFA trainers, and many have experience working with faith communities. If your faith community is interested in having an instructor train your congregation, your clergy, your lay leadership or a combination of folks in MHFA, let us know! We will be happy to help!

Contact us at registration@mhfaco.org or 720-573-3590. We look forward to hearing from you!