Gregg Payne Brings Mental Health Training to SJU

Gregg Payne, left, speaks to a student.


Gregg Payne, left, speaks to a student.

Sami Wanderer, Contributing Writer

Mental Health First Aid trainer Gregg Payne donned a vibrant neck scarf, called on the estimated 75 people in Marillac’s auditorium to introduce themselves with a royal name, like prince or duchess.

“I’m king Gregg,” he said.

The activity was the start of an eight hour Mental Health First Aid training, a program founded by Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm in Australia in 2001. It was implemented by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray in 2015 and has since trained over 100,000 New Yorkers in how to help people with mental illnesses.

Payne asked the crowd if anyone had ever felt stressed or sad before, saying he would like to meet the college student who hadn’t.

Two minutes into his presentation, Payne repeated a question he had previously asked. Payne broke down and began to cry over his mistake, continuing among laughter and confused looks from participants until a student asked if he was okay.

“Mental Health First Aid is instead of walking by it, ignoring it, or laughing at it, you’re going to stop in the name of love and check on somebody,” Payne said after he regained his composure.

Payne explained  that he suffers from anxiety himself and asked participants to count with him and instruct him to breathe, as he has been learning to do in his own therapy, whenever he encountered small anxiety attacks throughout the day. Payne made it an opportunity for participants to practice the skills they were learning in the program.

Payne has an arts background and used his theatrical training in his teachings. This sometimes made it difficult to perceive whether Payne was suffering from actual anxiety attacks or acting.

“With Gregg I think it was real, his reactions were constant and he explained how his anxiety attacks work with us,” participant Emoshioke Nash-Haruna said.

Payne and the other instructors taught that Mental Health First Aid is not treated the same as physical aid. If someone broke their leg, people would have empathy, but if someone suffered from a psychotic episode and believed they were Beyonce, people would ignore it or make fun of them, Payne explained.

Mental Health First Aid is meant to destigmatize mental illness.

“To provide information and resources for people who need services and to help people identify signs and symptoms of mental illness,” trainer Deborah Kuo said.

Kuo taught the group about some of the most prevalent mental illnesses like depression, psychosis, panic attacks and substance use disorders. The instructors taught students ALGEE, the mental health first action plan, to help them address mental illness.

The group in attendance included students who had family or friends who suffered from from mental illness.

Brianna Diaz is a Wellness Peer Educator and Mental Health Advocate on campus because her grandfather suffered severe depression her whole life and she has anxiety. The groups she is a part of help members live healthy lives as college students.

Diaz’s boyfriend, Eric Quinn said he wanted to take the course because he thought it would be useful to learn the information.

Allegra Mingo heard about the program through Watson, the society for pre-health students, and attended out of interest and the opportunity gain service hours.

At the end of the program, all students received a certification of completion of the program.