Mental health first aid training offers support and strategies for crisis

Header image for the article Mental health first aid training offers support and strategies for crisis Credit: MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID CANADA
One in five Canadians are likely to experience a mental health problem within a year.

Similar to when physical aid is needed for an injured person before medical treatment can be done, mental health first aid will be replicating that care for mental health crises.

Mental health first aid (MHFA) will be returning in a hybrid format through FanshaweLearns to provide help for people developing or experiencing mental health struggles. 

Nikki Ross is the Acting Manager for Personal Counselling Service at Fanshawe College and highlighted the importance of discussing care for mental health in a similar way as physical care.

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“Mental health first aid is a training course that was designed to help people provide help to someone who’s experiencing challenges or a decline in their mental wellbeing, or in the case of a mental health crisis to help them get to appropriate supports,” said Ross.

However, Ross also noted the training does not teach people how to be therapists. The training is to help recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems and provide guided steps towards more appropriate professional help for someone in need.

“I often say much like someone who’s providing physical first aid is not expected to be a doctor, someone who’s providing mental health first aid is also not expected to be a professional in the field. In terms of communities in Canada, we know that statistically, one in five Canadians are likely to experience a mental health problem within a year,” shared Ross.

With the specially designed first aid training focused on mental health, a goal to increase the capacity for people to support each other in the case of a crisis will then provide an increased likelihood to recovery and saving lives.

“MHFA focuses on some of the most common and most stigmatized mental health problems and disorders that people experience,” said Ross. “It also includes information about the signs and symptoms that someone may be struggling, the risk factors associated with that that might increase the likelihood and crisis first aid for specific situations. So in terms of disorders that are focused on in the training, we talk about substance related disorders, mood related disorders, anxiety and trauma related disorders, and psychotic disorders.” 

The MHFA course is approximately 12 hours long over a period of two days. Participants will receive a course manual and certificate from MHFA Canada upon completion.

“We know that within the college population, we’re seeing increases in our students struggling with mental health,” said Ross. “And the skills and strategies that this program offers are relevant to supporting friends and family members and our colleagues and our co-workers as well. I would just really encourage people to consider taking the training if they haven’t already or retaking it if they have in the past. And if this isn’t the right opportunity, [we] will continue offering it and making it available to people.”

With steps to break down the stigma and fear of mental health, MHFA can open up conversations and discussions about mental health.

“The things I hear from people in training at the beginning all the time are, ‘I’m afraid to say the wrong thing,’ or, ‘I won’t know what to do or how to help.’ And the feedback that we’ve gotten from people later is that this has been helpful, it does make it easier to feel equipped to have some of those conversations,” said Ross. “And also, you’re engaging with other people who then can be a support if it’s needed. In terms of encouraging conversation, I think the more we can take away the fear that can be associated with the unknown or with how to say something or how to ask, the better we open up those conversations, and that’s exactly what works to reduce stigma in general.”

For those interested in joining the sessions taking place Oct. 27-28, or for more information please contact nross@nullfanshawec.ca.