September 12, 2022

Need for community training is essential as post-pandemic stresses continue to impact mental health, says University’s Counseling Center director

Hackettstown, N.J., Sept. 12, 2022— Centenary University’s Counseling Center will provide Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training this fall to members of the University and larger Warren County communities. A $9,574 grant was awarded by the Hackettstown Medical Center Community Advisory Board last year, funding six free MHFA sessions sponsored by Centenary, with the potential to train up to 180 participants. A priority will be to host MHFA training, either onsite or on Centenary’s campus, for Warren County organizations such as police departments, schools, libraries, and businesses to train their employees.

MHFA training is an international program that teaches the skills to respond to signs of mental health and substance abuse challenges. Topics covered in the training are depression and mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis, and suicide prevention. The recently revised MHFA curriculum also includes the crucial component of self-care for the first aider. More than 2.5 million people have been trained across the United States.

In addition to its campus community, Centenary will conduct training sessions for members of the local community, especially those who interact with the public while on the job. Mikolaya Nynka, LPC, director of the Centenary University Counseling Center, said the training can provide important skills to a broad range of people, from teachers and police officers to healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, customer service representatives, and other professions. She explained that in addition to being applicable to interpersonal interactions on the job, the training is equally valuable to first aiders in their support of friends and family.

“We’ve seen that post-COVID, people have increased depression, anxiety, and substance use,” Nynka explained. “This course is more relevant than ever now because of the mental health toll of the pandemic, coupled with all of the other stresses happening in the world.”

In addition to recognizing signs and symptoms, a main goal of all MHFA courses is to destigmatize mental health issues, said Nynka, who is organizing the courses with Narda Ludena, MA/Ed.S, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified MHFA instructor, and Annette Smith, NCC, LPC, LCADC, assistant director of the Centenary University Counseling Center. The course will teach participants to use the ALGEE action plan, a widely respected and effective tool, when encountered with a potential mental health crisis. ALGEE steps include:

  • Approach, assess, and assist with any crisis—assess the risk of suicide or harm and look for signs of trauma and high anxiety.
  • Listen to the person non-judgmentally.
  • Give the person reassurance, support, and information.
  • Encourage the person to seek appropriate professional help.
  • Encourage the person to seek self-help and other support strategies.

“This Course is appropriate for anyone interested in learning how to help a fellow human in need,” Nynka said. “Any one of us could be impacted by mental health challenges and it is important for the Centenary and broader Warren County communities to have the knowledge, skills, and awareness to help each other.” Centenary’s student leaders have already been trained in two sessions. The community courses will be officered starting in October, and Mental Health First Aid for both young and adults will be offered. Warren County organizations interested in hosting one of the free community trainings, either onsite or on Centenary’s campus. and individuals seeking information about upcoming courses, should email


Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary University’s academic program integrates a solid liberal arts foundation with a strong career orientation. This mix provides an educational experience that prepares students to succeed in the increasingly global and interdependent world. The University’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, N.J., with its equestrian facility in Washington Township.