Mental Health

Mental health is just one component of our physical health (other components of our physical health include our nutritional health and our cardiovascular health).

The term mental health refers to the state of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health is directly related to our cognitions (thoughts), emotions (feelings) and behaviors (actions). Mental health helps us determine how we relate to others, handle stress, and make healthy choices.

 MSU Health and Human Development Wellbeing Model

This model illustrates how our well-being is comprised of five components (the Physical, Emotional/Spiritual, Intellectual, Economic/Financial, and the Social), and how these components are linked together.
As stated above, Mental Health is only one aspect of the Physical component. This illustration also serves as the logo for the Health and Human Development Department at MSU.

Mental Health and Stress

Mental health and stress are linked. Small amounts of manageable stress can be good for us. For example, stress can help us improve our resilience, which is our ability to recover and move forward despite setbacks. However, when we experience a great deal of stress, or when stress is chronic (it remains over a long period of time), it can be a source of mental health problems. Learn more about stress here.

What are mental health problems?

Mental health problems can be thought of as challenges or difficulties pertaining to your mental state. Some examples include: 

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness that make it difficult to enjoy daily life
  • Inability to concentrate on work due to constant worrying or anxiety
  • Increasing use of substances to manage unpleasant emotions or thoughts

When mental health problems become severe enough, or last long enough, it is possible for these problems to become a diagnosable disorder.

Why is mental health important for our overall health?

Mental health is a part of our physical health, and having poor mental health can impact your overall health. Similarly, having a long lasting or chronic physical health condition can lead to deteriorating mental health.

Can mental health change over time?

Just like how you can make improvements to your nutritional health (by eating more micronutrients) or to your cardiovascular health (by getting more exercise), you can also make improvements to your mental health. It is important to remember that your state of mental health is fluid, and can be impacted by life events, fluctuating economic conditions, and life stages. For example, caring for an ill parent or child, experiencing economic hardship, and working long hours can all impact your mental health.

However, your capacity to cope with certain mental health challenges can change (and improve!) over time too. 

How can I improve my mental health?

Some things that affect mental health such as genetics, environment, and life events cannot be changed. However, building and maintaining strong supportive relationships, working with a professional to achieve a balance between positive and negative emotions, and establishing strong coping skills can protect against some of the negative effects of poor mental health and chronic stress. Learn more about coping with stress here.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illnesses, also called mental disorders and psychological disorders, can only be determined by a qualified professional, such as a medical doctor, nurse or therapist. Some people may need prescription medication to help manage their mental illnesses.

It is important to know that mental illness is common. Approximately one in five adults in the United States has a mental illness (NAMI, 2019). The World Health Organization estimates that at some point in their lifetimes, approximately half of all people in the United States will experience mental illness.

More information about mental health, mental problems and mental illnesses can be found at the following sites.

More information on Mental Health

Find Mental Health Support Services

If you are unsure about the different types of mental health providers and how they can help you or a loved one, this MontGuide might help: Understanding and Finding Mental Health Providers in Montana (MSU Extension Montguide)

MSU Extension-Youth Aware of Mental Health Program

Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM) is a universal intervention (delivered to all youth of a group/class) mental health promotion program that aims to raise mental health awareness about risk and protective factors associated with suicide, including knowledge about depression and anxiety, and to enhance the skills and emotional resiliency needed to deal with stress and crisis. The format of the YAM intervention empowers youth to think, verbalize, and discuss important mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and coping strategies, in a context that is meaningful to them.

MSU Extension YAM programming is provided through a close partnership with the MSU Center for Research on Rural Education. More information about the YAM Program and a  list of YAM instruction sites can be found here:

Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR)

QPR Gatekeeper Training is an evidence-based suicide prevention program. In this 60-90-minute training, participants learn about common causes of suicidal thoughts and behavior, warning signs of suicide, and how to get help for someone who may be in crisis using three steps (question, persuade, and refer). MSU Extension QPR instructors are listed below with their contact information. These instructors completed the instructor certification training using funds from an outreach small grant from the Western Regional Agricultural Stress Assistance Program (WRASAP; ). WRASAP is supported by the USDA Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network under agreement number 2020-70028-32731, proposal number 2020-07631.

To request a QPR training, contact an instructor directly or complete the request form at the bottom of this page.

  • Dr. Alison Brennan
    MSU Extension Mental Health Specialist, Montana State University
    323 Reid Hall Bozeman, MT 59717-3370
    (406) 994-4148
    [email protected]
  • Jesse Fulbright
    MSU Extension Agent, Liberty County
    111 First St E, PO Box 607, Chester, MT 59522
  • Kayleen Kidwell
    MSU Extension Agent, Deer Lodge County
    800 S Main St Anaconda, MT 59711-2950
    (406) 563-4035
    [email protected]
  • Kellie Kahtani
    MSU Extension Agent, Silver Bow County
    305 W Mercury St Ste. 303 Butte, MT 59701-1659
    (406) 723-0217
    [email protected]
  • Sara Fluer
    MSU Extension Agent—FCS, Yellowstone County
    301 N 27th St Ste. 330. PO Box 35021 Billings, MT 59107-5021
    (406) 256-2828
    [email protected]
  • Wendy Becker
    MSU Extension Agent, Roosevelt County
    307 Broadway PO Box 416 Culbertson, MT 59218-0416
    (406) 787-5312
    [email protected]
  • Wendy Wedum
    MSU Extension Agent—FCS, Pondera County
    20 4th Ave SW Ste. 123 Conrad, MT 59425-2385
    (406) 271-4052
    [email protected]
  • Shelby Jones-Dozier
    MSU Extension FCS/4-H Agent—Teton County
    1 Main Ave. S., P.O. Box 130, Choteau, MT 59422
    (406) 466-2491
    [email protected]
  • Veronica BacaMSU Extension FCS/4-H Agent—Park County
    119 S. 3rd, Livingston, MT 59047(406) 222-4156[email protected] 

Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an evidence-based, 8-hour mental health literacy course developed in Australia. MHFA prepares participants to respond with greater knowledge, confidence and compassion when an adult is experiencing a mental health problem or is having a mental health crisis. Youth Mental Health First Aid is similar, but the focus is on training adults to respond to youth, with attention to issues that are specific to youth (developmental considerations, risk factors, etc.). Both versions train participants to use a five-part action plan to provide aid. For more detailed info about these programs, go to:   

View, print or download the most recent MSU Extension Mental Health First Aid Impact Report on this page: 

MSU Extension Mental Health First Aid Instructors
Name and Contact Information
MHFA Version - Adult
MHFA Version - Youth

Alison Brennan

Assistant Professor/ Extension Mental Health Specialist
MSU Extension, Health and Human Development
(406) 994-4148
[email protected]

Kellie Kahtani
MSU Extension, Silver Bow County
(406) 723-0217
[email protected]

Mandie Reed
MSU Extension, Wheatland County
(406) 632-4728 ext. 308
[email protected]

Brenda Richey
MSU Extension, Flathead Reservation
(406) 275-2756
[email protected]
Jackie Rumph
FCS Agent
MSU Extension, Custer County
(406) 874-3370
[email protected]

Request a Course


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For more information:


Alison Brennan, MS, PhD
Assistant Professor / Extension Mental Health Specialist
MSU Extension & Health and Human Development
Herrick Hall 122
Phone: 406-994-4148
[email protected]

Montana State University
PO Box 173540
Bozeman, MT 59717-3540

This project is supported through funding from USDA/NIFA Grant #2016-07213 and the Montana Mental Health Trust Fund.