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 Elizabeth DePalma, (MSN, ’18), DNP 2019 CU Nursing graduate

Students

Graduate leaves mental health legacy

Author Debra Melani | Publish Date December 13, 2019

When College of Nursing student Elizabeth DePalma, (MSN, ’18), graduates with her DNP and takes off into the wild, blue yonder, she will leave behind a potentially life-saving legacy.

For her doctoral project, the psychiatric nurse practitioner focused on whether training students in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) could make a difference.

It turns out it does — and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) second lieutenant’s work remains on track for many MHFA trainings to come.

What DePalma found especially concerning from her work with students at CU Anschutz and the Colorado School of Mines was that 10% of students surveyed reported having “seriously considered suicide” in the past year.

Stigma and lack of mental health literacy prevent students from seeking professional treatment, DePalma said. But they do tend to talk to and listen to their peers when it comes to emotional health issues, which is why MHFA training makes sense, she said.

The evidence-based program created for the layperson provides action plans for people who notice someone struggling with a mental health problem. The eight-hour training includes certification for three years and increases mental health literacy while decreasing stigma, studies show.

DePalma’s study included training and observing a group of peer mentors and students from CU’s Integrated Nursing Pathway program. The increased rates of study participants who noticed and helped peers in crisis five months post training were statistically significant, she said.

“These are results from just one training done months ago. Imagine what will happen as we offer more trainings,” DePalma said. “We’re talking about saving human lives here.”