Tessa Blaikie has her bachelors degree in sociology from the University of Winnipeg and a masters degree in Political Economy from Carleton University. She is a youth mental health promotion worker at the Canadian Mental Health Association Winnipeg and was Winnipeg’s official champion of the Clara Hughes events in Winnipeg during Clara’s Big Ride for Bell Let’s Talk.
Many of you probably took first aid or CPR training through school, summer camp or work, so you know what to do if someone sprains their ankle, starts choking or experiencing chest pains. But what if you came across someone having a mental health crisis? Would you know what to do?
Why Mental Health First Aid?
Unlike physical injuries, mental health issues aren’t always obvious, which can mean they get overlooked. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) teaches us how to recognize when others are struggling with a mental health problem and equips us with tools and information so we can help. At the same time, MHFA also helps reduce mental health stigma as accurate information is shared about people with mental health issues including risk factors, symptoms and more.
MHFA is important because mental health issues are so prevalent in our society. One in three Canadians will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life. Professional help is not always on hand so even if we want to help someone in crisis, we may not know how. MHFA teaches us how.
Helping a friend
Here’s an example of how MHFA training can be useful. You notice one of your friends has been irritable lately. Then they confide in you that they’ve been drinking a lot of coffee to stay up and study and then drinking alcohol to fall asleep. From your MHFA training, you recognize that what they’re doing is not safe or sustainable. You’re training has also taught you how best to approach them with your concerns and make suggestions for how they might go about changing their behaviour. You talk to them about the different stages of change that you learned about through MHFA and direct them to the right resources.
This is the kind of aid MHFA will teach you how to provide until appropriate professional connections are made for the person in crisis or until the crisis resolved. MHFA will also give you the knowledge and skills to be able to assess the person’s safety to determine if he/she is at risk for suicide.
In this example, your friend may want to connect with a counsellor in Counselling and Accessibility Services to get help with gradually slowing down their caffeine and alcohol consumption. Or they may want to take a study skills workshop to learn how to better manage their school workload and stress.
Want more information?
If you think you might be interested in taking MHFA training or just want to learn more, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association Winnipeg for upcoming courses including basic MHFA and MHFA for adults who interact with youth. Check out www.mentalhealthfirstaid.ca for MHFA courses offered by other organizations throughout Canada.