Brookland-Lakeview Empowerment Center Presents at American Public Health Association Annual Meeting

How to address critical health issues was the overriding theme presented by professionals from the Brookland-Lakeview Empowerment Center (BLEC) at the American Public Health Association 2023 Annual Meeting and Expo held recently in Atlanta, Georgia. The presenters from BLEC were Sylvia Flint, Reginald Rearden, Dr. Jacqueline Betancourt, Joan Harris, and Dr. Cindye Richburg Cotton.

Beatrice K. Cantu was also a presenter from her administrative position as the project coordinator for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) at Lexington/Richland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council (LRADAC). The BLEC and LRADAC collaborated to deliver a poster presentation titled, “Mental Health First Aid in action: Increasing Access to mental health services in rural populations.”

The Roundtable Presentation is for the Mental Health Awareness Training Initiative and includes Mr. Reginald Rearden, Ms. Joan M. Harris, and Dr. Cindye Richburg Cotton as facilitators. 

This presentation highlighted how “the engagement and timely access to mental health and substance use services continues to be challenging for those living in rural communities. Specific barriers such as cost, stigma, and a lack of high-quality care in under-resourced counties are common challenges faced by those in South Carolina. Leaders working in five rural counties presented strategies and outcomes of collaborative efforts to implement mental health first aid, an evidence-based public health training program designed to educate individuals on the signs and symptoms of emerging mental health conditions. The evidence-base documenting the effectiveness of this eight-hour, in-person curriculum continues to grow nationally.”

Cantu stated: “Many of our poster audience members living in, and working with, rural populations felt overwhelmed by a lack of resources. After attending the poster session, their perspectives changed as they discovered low or no cost strategies to engage and assist people in their communities. Many of our audience members also left the session feeling inspired to apply to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for their own MHFA grants to serve their rural communities. It was rewarding to see the shift from overwhelm to hope among our audience members.”

She also said some recommendations shared during the presentation included the importance of connecting with key leaders in the rural communities; training local instructors; streamlining data collection strategies; and engaging key groups who are traditionally under-resourced in these rural communities. The importance of sharing local resources for referral and follow-up was also a recommendation.

Another poster presentation, “Refining Community-Clinical Linkages,” was given by Flint and Dr. Bentacourt. They reflected on research that focused on complications associated with poorly managed Type-2 diabetes.

Their presentation emphasized how Type-2 diabetes can be improved with a healthy lifestyle, yet some non-Hispanic Blacks reside in social and physical environments that hinder adopting and maintaining behaviors that support healthy living.

“Community-based programs such as the Diabetes Intervention Program (DIP) for Families can extend care and education beyond the healthcare setting,” said Flint, project coordinator for the Diabetes Intervention Program (DIP) for Families at BLEC.

Meanwhile, a roundtable presentation focused on research to determine the “effects of evidence-based MHFA training on African Americans perspectives and behaviors.” Rearden, Dr. Richburg Cotton, and Harris were the presenters.

According to Rearden, this research highlighted how serious mental illness has been increasing among African Americans of all ages in the United States. In South Carolina, many African Americans hold beliefs related to stigma, personal disclosure, religion and spirituality, and help-seeking, which can negatively affect positive coping behaviors.

“Our audience were very much engaged during the presentation,” said Rearden, project coordinator of the Mental Health Awareness Training Initiative at BLEC. “I believe the major takeaways from the presentation were how evidenced-based MHFA training changed African Americans perspectives and behaviors in South Carolina and influence their decision to refer family and friends for professional help.”

The roundtable presentation revealed that 404 African American adults living in four rural and suburban counties completed the eight-hour, in-person education program. A quantitative pre-and post-mental health literacy assessment was conducted to measure the effectiveness of training on outcomes related to knowledge, beliefs, and opinions. A 90-day follow-up assessment was administered to identify their capacity to respond appropriately to a mental health crisis or alcohol/drug addiction using the MHFA Five-Step Action Plan.

This research concluded that MHFA is an effective public education program to educate the African American population about common mental health conditions. Also, those trained were proactive in making referrals for youth and adults who could benefit from a mental health assessment.

Feature photo: The Poster Presentation is for Diabetes Intervention Program and includes Dr. Jacqueline Betancourt and Sylvia Flint