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Young professionals learn about mental health first aid

Young professionals from around the community gathered Wednesday at Riverland Community College for a lunch and learn discussing adult mental health first aid.

Mental Health First Aid instructor Kim Schaufenbuel challenged the group to keep an open mind and be curious.

Emily Kahnke / By EMILY KAHNKE 

Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Young Professionals gather Wednesday for a lunch and learn presentation from Kim Schaufenbuel at Riverland Community College. The topics discussed focused on mental health in the workplace and how to have meaningful conversations about mental health challenges. (Emily Kahnke/

“This isn’t an official mental health first aid class,” she explained. “This is more of a sneak peek of the real deal, which is a lengthier class, but I think if you come willing to learn, you’ll see how signing up for the full class could be very beneficial.”

Lunch in learn was a part of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Young Professionals — or Y-Pro — program. The Y-Pro program is for young professionals aged 21-39 working in the Owatonna community and gives them an opportunity to socialize, network and develop in their personal and professional lives.

Throughout the hour-long event, the group discussed the prevalence of mental health illnesses and their impacts on the workplace, practiced listening without judgement and shared ideas on what they could do in their own places of work to support the movement of mental health first aid.

Schaufenbuel stated 1 in 5 adults will be diagnosed with some form of mental illness in their lifetime, and nearly 40% of adults experiencing mental health issues did not seek treatment in the last year.

“It’s apparent that we need to normalize conversations around mental health,” she said. “People are more than happy to lend a helping hand when someone has an accident or there’s a physical illness, but ask yourselves why that’s not the case with mental illness.”

Several attendees offered their ideas on why mental illness continues to hold a prevalent stigma such as societal expectations, fear of judgment and more.

“So how do we get rid of the stigma?” Schaufenbuel asked. “One of the most important things is to notice things, be non-judgmental, listen and show support.”

Emily Kahnke / By EMILY KAHNKE 

Kim Schaufenbuel leads the discussion and gives guests a brief overview of the mental health first aid course during the lunch and learn event. She encouraged all guests to sign up for the full training, which has proven to lessen the stigmas surrounding mental illness and the challenges that go along with it. (Emily Kahnke/

She referenced the acronym ALGEE — assess, listen, give, encourage, encourage.

“ALGEE isn’t linear,” she explained. “The steps can happen in any order, but what’s important to keep in mind is listening and encouraging.”

Kaitlyn Maseorro, an employee at Viracon, said she believes it is important to actively help to remove the negative connotation surrounding mental health, especially in the workplace.

“I think if we can help people feel more accepted and understood, they’ll be more likely to open up and seek help,” she said.

Schaufenbuel also spoke about the importance of using person-first terminology and avoiding language that further stigmatizes mental health challenges. For example, she suggested using language such as “a person experiencing depression” instead “a depressed person” to humanize the experience and work toward changing the conversation around these struggles.

“This course has proven to lower the negative perceptions and reduce stigmas surrounding mental health,” she said. “I would encourage all of you to consider signing up for the full class to dive more deeply into the topics we’ve discussed today.”

Overall, many of the guests who attended said they would be more thoughtful when hearing if a coworker, friend or loved one dealing with mental health challenges and feel confident they took away some skills to have conversations openly around mental health.