Behavioral health training aims to bridge gaps in state mental health care

Keigan Aabel-Brown, coordinator for the West Virginia Behavioral Health Workforce and Health Equity Training Center. | Photo Courtesy Marshall Communications

Keigan Aabel-Brown, coordinator for the West Virginia Behavioral Health Workforce and Health Equity Training Center. | Photo Courtesy Marshall Communications

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to correct an error in a quotation.  

Two local organizations have come together to provide behavioral health professionals additional health equity and trauma-related trainings.  

The West Virginia Department of Human Resources Bureau for Behavioral Health and Marshall University have partnered to offer free training for behavioral health professionals throughout the state.  

“All of our trainings are going to be available to anyone. Students can take them. Professionals in the field,” said Keigan Aabel-Brown, the coordinator for the West Virginia Behavioral Health Workforce and Health Equity Training Center. 

 “The continuing education creditors are only relevant to West Virginia providers, but if providers from other states were really interested, they could,” Aabel-Brown said. “Really anyone that provides direct services or engages with their community, especially around disparities.”   

Aabel-Brown said proper behavioral healthcare is important to keep the state diverse.  

“It makes West Virginia a more inclusive state,” Aabel-Brown said. “We already know West Virginia has the trends of young folks leaving the state, but this will make it, so it is a more inclusive place.” 

Ensuring every person has equal rights to healthcare is a large focus from the program Aabel-Brown said.  

“Behavioral health disparities is addressing those differences and outcomes related to engagements. So how are certain populations relating to their socioeconomic status, their race, their sexual orientation, their gender and even their geographical location,” Aabel-Brown said. 

He said it is important for specialists and providers to know how to provide appropriate services.  

“How does engaging with them look different than the dominating group. How does their health outcomes differ. Do we see more mental health disorders in certain populations because we’re unable to support them or due to generational trauma,” Aabel-Brown said.  

“Health equality is the idea of being aware of the difference and outcomes for the population and then doing all we can to raise awareness and make sure how we provide services is culturally appropriate, culturally sensitive, is aware of the challenges they face, meeting folks where they are at and letting them make decisions on the care they’d like to receive.  

Aabel-Brown said the program will work with different areas focusing on behavioral and mental health around equality and traumas. He said this is especially key post-covid and in West Virginia with things like the opioid epidemic in play.  

“Essentially all of the trainings and content we are going to be providing are under that lens of trauma-informed care and trauma-informed practice, which is essentially making the general assumption that most people have experienced some level of trauma,” Aabel-Brown said. 

Aabel-Brown said the hope is to ensure everyone has access to behavioral healthcare.  

“As someone who has lived in West Virginia a majority of my life. I’m a queer person, I’m a person of color,” Aabel-Brown said. “I think everyone in West Virginia regardless of your identity or your socioeconomic status should be able to see behavior health providers.” 

Aabel-Brown said the group hopes to bridge the gap and have the needed services available.  

“Even if they don’t understand what you’re dealing with, understand your trauma, they have the skills and the understanding and the background to be able to support any population that seeks services,” Aabel-Brown said. “We really hope this project makes it so folks have more providers that they can go to that understand what they’re struggling with and have skills that can respond to their needs.” 

Aabel-Brown said these skills are also essential in helping fight thing substance use disorder problems in the state.  

“Hopefully we are getting ahead of the curb of substance use. We know a lot of the highest groups that experience substance use disorder and that use substances, are groups that have experience in historical discrimination or marginalization – LGBTQ kids, folks of color, rural folks without access to decent jobs and education,” Aabel-Brown said. “West Virginia wants to get ahead of the curb of the ‘drug problem’ then we need to be addressing those root causes, the mental health of the community and not just focusing on stopping drugs from coming into the community.”

The summer training series is just the start and Aabel-Brown said the series will be virtual to offer people access.  

“We’re kicking off our training series in July and August, but we will be doing additional work in the future,” Aabel-Brown said. “They’re all going to be available online, is a big important thing we want make sure is out there. Folks can continue to access the trainings online.” 

According to a press release from Marshall, “Funding for the center was provided through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s Treatment Block Grant and the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant. 

The $425,000 grant aims to increase behavioral health workforce excellence by providing training in evidence-based practices statewide to reduce behavioral health disparities related to mental health and substance misuse. The center encourages professionals throughout the state to sign up for the free virtual trainings that will run through the summer months.” 

Brittany Hively can be contacted at [email protected]