ONU pharmacy students Megan Breier and Joey Sidoti.

When Ohio Northern University students Joey Sidoti and Megan Breier were assigned to create a community service project as part of the College of Pharmacy’s Rural and Underserved Health Scholars Program (RUHSP), they zeroed in on the fact that many regional youth are struggling with mental health issues.
According to the Hardin County Community Health Status Assessment 2018 report, released in July 2019, 16 percent of youth surveyed said they had seriously considered attempting suicide within the past 12 months, eight percent said they had actually attempted suicide, and 27 percent reported they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some usual activities.
Yet professional help can be difficult to access here, says Sidoti, drawing on long-established statistics. “There’s a shortage of mental health providers in Hardin County” due, in part, to its rural nature, he pointed out.
“Meg and I are passionate” about this topic, Sidoti says. “In high school, we didn’t get to learn about mental health at all. I know a lot of students have concerns, and there’s a stigma. We want to eliminate the stigma” of recognizing, acknowledging and accessing resources related to mental health, he says.
What resulted was a project designed to assist students at Ada Exempted Village Schools, particularly those in high school, with accessing mental health resources online. Sidoti, a sixth-year pharmacy student from Warren, Ohio, and Breier, a sixth-year pharmacy student from Plainfield, Illinois, offered educational programming and resources for students to help them recognize and get assistance for anxiety, stress, depression and other mental health concerns. Specifically, they hung posters with a QR code that leads to an extensive Google Drive list of reliable organizations, Ted Talks, videos, podcasts, parental resources and more that provide information and ways to connect with mental health care providers. The two also visited the school multiple times to present to students and provided pamphlets that offered “a quick, easy read” and included the QR code, organization websites and help hotlines.
Additionally, the team conducted pre- and post-surveys with seniors to gauge their baseline mental health knowledge before the project began and after it was launched.
“We tried to find appropriate ways to reach high school students,” Sidoti says. “That’s the age range when most mental health issues develop; about 80 percent of issues develop then,” but many students rarely talk about them, he maintains.
Because the project relies on a free QR code, data regarding how many have accessed it isn’t available. Sidoti and Breier decided to create a free code so that it could be used in perpetuity rather than as a subscription.
“Whenever a student designs a project for our RUHSP program, they must plan for how it can be sustained,” says Michelle Musser, associate professor of pharmacy practice and director of the Raabe College of Pharmacy’s outreach programming. The goals are to not only help improve the lives of community members, but to do so in ways that can be continued after a project’s launch.
“Both Joey and Megan were interested in not just doing something on a whim, as a one-off. We wanted a lasting partnership over a longer period of time,” says Emily Eddy, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, noting that the two have been developing their project for the past two academic years, with their work at Ada High School taking place during the fall ’21 and spring ’22 semesters.
Eddy and Musser are confident that another cohort of rural scholars pharmacy students will not only take over the project, but expand upon it in ways that will increasingly benefit Ada schools student as well as other Hardin County schools.
Sidoti and Breier already have anecdotal evidence that indicate their project has impacted some students positively.
“After one of our talks, we got a couple of emails from some of the students asking about seeking help. We directed them to high school guidance counselor Erinn Prater,” Sidoti says.
“The Ada schools were a wonderful partner,” says Musser.
“Ada High School made it very enjoyable,” Sidoti notes. “The principal and teachers loved when we came to present. They welcomed us with open arms. All the students seemed interested and engaged.”
Ada High School Principal Dan Lee echoed those project relationship sentiments, complimenting Breier and Sidoti on their work and saying he hopes the project continues.
“Erinn Prater and I collaborated with Joey and Megan to help them implement their ideas. The two were very positive and professional. They were always responsive and timely in their communication. They also did a great job presenting to our students,” Lee says. “We’d love see this project continue.”
Prater thinks that students being able to engage with other students contributed to the projects’ success. “I’m always open to new ideas and ways to reach our students. It was great to have someone younger and closer to our students’ ages who are more into the social media aspect and current platforms,” she points out.
This project also generated another positive outcome: Sidoti was one of only 10 students in the country to receive the U.S. Public Health Service’s 2022 Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Award. USPHS award recipients are recognized for their efforts in addressing current public health challenges. He and other recipients were recognized during this year’s Federal Pharmacy Forum program at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting held in San Antonio, Texas.
The RUHSP is a distinctive ONU pharmacy offering that educates students about the unique challenges that rural health care presents and trains them in ways that will best serve these populations.
“Caring for the health needs of rural and underserved populations is a specialty in itself,” the program explains on its webpage. “These patients face different health issues than people in cities and towns.”