Social Isolation: it seems almost deniable in our technology driven lives where exposure to others can be as swift as an internet connection - regardless of location. Yet, according to the Executive Director of the National Association of Rural Mental Health (NARMH), Ron Manderschied, it is a condition, he equates, “almost as deadly… as smoking.” 
In the aftermath of tandem suicides by national figures, the suicide crisis in our nation is not far from our minds. Still, the situation seems elevated in rural America where there is often a higher incidence of drug overdose, a decreasing presence of local hospitals and basic resources, an elderly but declining population, and the presence of Veterans. Mandershied asserts this combination creates a perfect storm in rural America: "… at risk for suicide." 
Yet, the overall well-being of rural America is critical to the overall health of our nation as the harvest from rural fields is the proverbial bread basket or agricultural mecca undergirding our food source. Moreover, Alabama suffers, statewide, not only from a health professional shortage in mental health (except for Madison County), but also: primary care, and dental. 
The Alabama Statewide AHEC Program (ASAP) exists to address these problems, and along with Executive Director Manderschied, promotes the concept for rural communities to "grow their own" health care professionals. The ASAP supports Mandershied’s call "to start recruiting … providers from these rural areas, and work with [students] in high schools and colleges… [who]are most likely to go back. They have an appreciation for rurality and living in rural communities." 
Another source, hosted by the ASAP, seeks to raise awareness among lay people in how to approach individuals suffering a mental health crisis or exhibiting mental health symptoms. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an almost 20-year program originating in Australia and managed by the National Council for Behavioral Health. The program offers an 8-hour certification training to teach participants the signs and symptoms of those who are struggling. The group’s vision is for MHFA training to be as "common as CPR and First Aid training." 
Dr. Rick Kilgore, certified MHFA trainer leading a June 2018, session at the CAVHCS campus in Tuskegee.
The Southeast Alabama Area Health Education Center (SEAAHEC) in partnership with Dr. Rick Kilgore, former Director of the Physician’s Assistant program at the University of Alabama Birmingham and certified Mental Health First Aid instructor, recently led a presentation at the Tuskegee campus of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS). The insightful training featured realistic scenarios and role playing that expands the opportunity for lay persons to take ownership in alleviating the social isolation and stigma behind increased mental and behavioral episodes in our nation’s grassroots communities.
For more information or to host a MHFA training, contact any SEAAHEC staff person: 334.676.4180 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[1 ]Manderscheid, R. (2018)as quoted in Goldberg, E. Rural Areas Have The Highest Suicide Rates And Fewest Mental Health Workers. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/rural-suicide-rates-mental-health_us_5b22dd28e4b0d4fc01fcc098.
[2 ]Manderscheid.R. (2018).
 Mental Health Professional Shortage Map, (2017). Retrieved from http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/ruralhealth/assets/Mental%20HPSA%20Map%20-%20October%202017.pdf
[4 ]Manderscheid.R. (2018).
[5 ]National Council for Behavioral Health (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/