Our RPTU Story

Mental health in focus: The RPTU "Mental Health First Aid Program"

Picture: Pixabay

University is an exciting phase of life, characterized by growth, challenges and new experiences. But behind the lectures, exams and social interactions often lies an aspect that is just as crucial as the subject knowledge itself: students' mental health. In a world characterized by constant change and high expectations, awareness of the importance of mental health is becoming increasingly relevant. After all, mental illness is not uncommon. The probability of suffering from a mental illness in the course of one's life is around 28 percent. 75 percent of all those affected develop the first signs of mental illness before the age of 24. RPTU has therefore launched a program that focuses on the mental health of students. The "Mental Health First Aid" program. It provides students with an important resource to find support for mental health challenges.

Sara Braun has been working at the Competence Center for Study and Career (KSB) since 2020, which offers interdisciplinary and supplementary courses to students of all degree programs and promotes students' self-competence. She discovered the need for such a program when she took a close look at the stress factors involved in studying and exam anxiety in particular. The Australian "Mental Health First Aid" program (MHFA) seemed to her to be the right answer to these challenges. In order to establish the program for the Landau site, Sara Braun first completed the first aid training herself in 2021. In spring 2023, she introduced it at the Landau site. In summer 2022, Diana Neben, project employee in Student Health Management CampusPlus, initiated the MHFA program in Kaiserslautern. The reason for the introduction of the program was the University Health Report, which was conducted at the Kaiserslautern campus in 2021 and showed a significant deterioration in the psychosocial health of students. RPTU students now have a point of contact at both campuses if their mental health is at risk of becoming unbalanced.

"Mental Health First Aid is offered worldwide. Each country can acquire a license to implement the program at national level. In Germany, the Central Institute for Mental Health (ZI) in Mannheim is responsible for this. The training for first aiders is carried out by instructors on behalf of the ZI and takes place over several sessions, during which various mental illnesses and conversation techniques are discussed and practiced. At the end of the training, participants receive the title "certified first aider for mental health".

High demand for the limited places on the MHFA courses

At the same time as the RPTU kicked off at the beginning of this year, the mental health program also started at the Landau location, meaning that trained first aiders for mental health are available at both locations. Students interested in first aider training were able to apply for the limited places in advance. The motivation to apply for this training is very different and individual. However, they all have one thing in common: They want to create an open platform and destigmatize mental illness, Sara Braun knows. The first aiders have initial experience of mental stress in their own environment. Their aim is to support people who need help.

When selecting the applications, the "Mental First Aid Program" teams in Landau and Kaiserslautern made sure that the future first aiders came from different departments. "In this way, we wanted to ensure that a contact person from their own department is available for every student seeking help," emphasizes Sara Braun. This makes it easier to understand the individual challenges of those seeking help because the first aiders know and can assess them from their own experience. 80 applications were received for the 14 places at the Landau site, which were filled by students from various departments. In Kaiserlautern, over 20 students from different faculties have been trained since the start of the program. Since 2023, RPTU has had its own instructor for MHFA training courses. This means that regular in-house courses can now be offered to train even more interested students as first aiders.

The "Roger Principle"

The basic principle of the "Mental Health First Aid" program is called the "Roger Principle", where "R" stands for react, "O" for openness, "G" for support and information, "E" for encouragement and "R" for reactivation of resources. This principle was developed by MHFA first aiders at the ZI Mannheim and emphasizes the importance of first aid: together we look for existing resources to provide acute help. This can be, for example, spending time with the parents or resuming activities that the person seeking help enjoys. In addition, information is provided about various mental illnesses and their symptoms in order to raise awareness among those affected and guide them in taking the first step towards help. "The aim is to proactively encourage those affected to seek professional support," says Braun.

If students would like support from the "Mental Health First Aid" program team, there are various options available to them. In Kaiserslautern, the student councils can be contacted directly and individual appointments can be arranged. In Landau, there is an open consultation hour and it is also possible to make appointments by email.

The primary aim of the service is to show students that they are not alone and that there are people they can talk to about their concerns and problems. "The first aiders listen carefully and work together with the person concerned to find out what support is needed and refer them to the support services," explains Sara Braun. "Through their training, they are sensitized to the topic of mental health and the most common mental illnesses," adds Diana Neben. During the training, the first aiders also learn how they can support those affected in their search for therapy. They are informed about the regional and local services available and can therefore refer students in a targeted manner.

From students for students

The trained first aiders are not just simple contacts, but an integral part of student life. "This allows them to be on hand when first aid is needed for mental health issues," says Sara Braun, explaining the advantage of this approach. Every conversation is treated in strict confidence. The aim is to make it easier for students to open up to trained first aiders their own age than to university relatives. The first aiders work on a voluntary basis and take turns at the consultation hours.

The program is now run by CampusPlus, under the direction of Malte Prietz and Diana Neben, and has successfully established itself at both campuses. CampusPlus is an RPTU project for student health management that aims to promote bio-psycho-social health and thus contribute to an attractive campus life and healthy studies. "Since the establishment of 'Mental Health First Aid', the number of students seeking advice has steadily increased," reports Malte Prietz. The teams' biggest challenge at the moment is to make the service more visible so that even more students who feel they need it can take advantage of it. "It's often not easy to accept help in difficult situations, especially if the problems are of a personal nature," Malte Prietz confirms. It is important to realize that this is not a weakness, but a courageous and correct step towards healing and well-being, Prietz continues. The stresses and strains of everyday student life and life in general can lead to mental challenges that should not be ignored. It is therefore all the more pleasing that there are a number of students who are committed to a positive campus culture that focuses on mental health during studies. Seeking help and support is a sign of self-care and strength. Similar to physical complaints, mental stress also requires professional help. "By opening up and taking advantage of support, students lay the foundations for improving their mental health and thus pave the way for successful and fulfilling studies," says Diana Neben, motivating students to take advantage of the Mental Health First Aid program.

Important contribution for students

In recognition of its outstanding commitment to the interests of students, the Friends of RPTU in Landau awarded the program this year's prize for campus culture on 30.10.2023.

New first aid training courses will be offered at the beginning of 2024 to help even more students - an important step in challenging times. All information on this will follow soon via the CampusPlus website and Instagram and by circular email to all students. Anyone who would like to be trained as a student MHFA first aider can contact Malte Prietz (LD) or Diana Neben (KL) by email.


MHFA Landau: Open consultation hours and appointments by appointment via campusplus-mhfa-ld(at)rptu.de

Further information here

MHFA Kaiserslautern: individual consultations by appointment via the student councils. You can find all information here

Picture: Pixabay