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Journal touts student health program 

LITTLE ROCK – A program teaming the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and schools across the state was recently featured in the journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) as an effective method for reaching thousands of teachers and students about behavioral health issues.

Since 2001, Arkansas Partners in Behavioral Health Sciences (PIBHS) has provided more than 30,000 hours of continuing education and information on substance abuse and mental illnesses common in children and adolescents to more than 5,000 teachers, counselors and students. The information was distributed through workshops, distance-learning presentations and supplemental classroom curriculum. The program documented increased awareness of behavioral issues in schools as well as an improved ability to recognize and address potential problems.

“Blending Education, Research and Service Missions: The Arkansas Model,” an article documenting the results, appeared in the January 2007 issue of AAMC journal Academic Medicine.

“Community service is a founding principle of UAMS and this program is an example of that spirit in this time of extraordinary need for behavioral health services and school districts with finite resources,” said the article’s lead author, JoAnn Kirchner, M.D., an associate professor for the Department of Psychiatry in the UAMS College of Medicine and associate director for the Mental Illness, Research, Education and Clinical Center in the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

According to the article, 20 percent of children and adolescents nationally have emotional or behavioral problems, while 10 percent have a problem with substance abuse – both of which can significantly impact a student’s ability to succeed. A survey of students in the North Little Rock School District in 2003-2004 reported that more than 25 percent felt so sad or hopeless for two weeks or more than they stopped doing their usual activities.

From 2001 through 2005, more than 2,700 Arkansas teachers, counselors and school employees participated in workshops or presentations as part of the PIBHS program. School personnel received information on topics including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities, depression, eating disorders and violence.

Later evaluations of participants showed they had maintained the ability to identify and respond to suspected problems (such as a depressed student), were aware of community mental health resources and felt prepared to intervene in mental health crisis situations. More than 60 percent of participants in a workshop on school violence reported having initiated at least one program to improve school safety and prevent violence.

The PIBHS program used interactive video presentations, classroom curriculum and an exhibit on mental health in the Arkansas Museum of Discovery to reach more than 2,500 students during the same period. Student programs covered topics ranging from healthy body image to careers in behavioral health science. The PIBHS team also developed the Depression Teaching Toolkit as an eight-lesson curriculum for high school students, teaching the students to recognize the signs of depression and how to get help.

“The PIBHS partnership between UAMS and the schools shows how academic health centers can use their resources to improve scientific knowledge and understanding of mental health conditions,” Kirchner said. “Although mental health was targeted here, academic health centers can incorporate other health conditions, scientific topics and medical interventions into this model to provide an important service to the public. In return, these centers receive unique opportunities for faculty development while realizing their mission of health leadership in the community.”

PIBHS began as part of the Partners in Health Sciences (PIHS) program, which was developed by Robert Burns, Ph.D., a professor in the UAMS Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. Since 1991, PIHS has focused on educating Arkansas teachers about a range of physical health topics such as cardiovascular anatomy and physiology, immunology and cancer.

After requests from PIHS participants, a workshop focusing on depression and suicide was offered in 1998. Following positive feedback on this and subsequent presentations focusing on violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Kirchner and Teresa Kramer, Ph.D., associate director of the Psychiatric Research Institute at UAMS and an associate professor for the UAMS Department of Psychiatry, developed a proposal for PIBHS as a separate program focusing on mental health and substance abuse topics.

Joining Kirchner and Kramer as authors of the Academic Medicine article were Chris Rule, a licensed certified social worker in the Department of Psychiatry and the PIBHS project coordinator; Leigh Anne Bennett, M.D., a psychiatrist at the Arkansas Psychiatric Clinic in Little Rock; and Sharon Otwell, a teacher in the North Little Rock School District.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,430 students and 715 medical residents. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 9,400 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. For more information, visit www.uams.edu.

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