There’s a good chance that you completed a First Aid course when you were younger, maybe for a lifeguarding or babysitting job. I remember CPR practice on dummies, Heimlich manuever demos, and learning about heat stroke and hypothermia and burns and broken bones. With so many people trained in First Aid at some point in their life, there’s usually at least one person who is quick to offer their help when someone is choking or looks like they are having a heart attack.
However, it can be a very different scenario when it comes to mental health problems! Passersby are more likely to withdraw when they see someone experiencing obvious signs of a mental illness, and even friends and family are sometimes afraid to ask their loved ones about what they’re dealing with and how they can help.
This is the challenge that Mental Health First Aid is trying to address, with a basic course to help people recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems and how to support someone in accessing appropriate treatment. Mental Health First Aid is relatively new in Canada and the United States (it was created in Australia in 2001), but it’s becoming a lot more widespread.
New York City is training 250,000 volunteers in Mental Health First Aid, including teachers, religious leaders, and law enforcement staff, and a State Senator has just introduced a bill to make it a requirement for teachers.
I completed the Mental Health First Aid training last month, and Jermal also took the course a while ago, and I actually learned quite a bit in the short training.
The Mental Health First Aid training was really great at addressing how stigma is a huge barrier to accessing mental health treatment and how the biggest challenge is often the individual struggle we have in asking for help.
Listening non-judgementally, giving reassurance, and encouraging appropriate treatment (professional help as well as self-help and other support strategies) are some of the key skills that the Mental Health First Aid training tries to instill in supporters.
There was also a really good section on assessing risk for harm or suicide, one of the most difficult topics to talk about. Knowing that asking “Have you had thoughts of suicide?” is not going to put the idea into someone’s head, if it wasn’t there already, is very reassuring and can help overcome the fear of asking this question directly.
Particularly for boys and men, growing up with the idea that men are supposed to be strong, independent, and unemotional can make it really difficult to talk about mental health and mental illness.
A national survey by UBC’s Men’s Depression and Suicide Network found that almost one-quarter of Canadian men have been diagnosed or treated for depression and almost one-quarter of Canadian men have considered or attempted suicide.
Within this group of respondents, 57-percent indicated that they would feel embarrassed about seeking professional help for depression and over two-thirds agreed with the statement “I should be able to pull myself together.”
A recent study from the UK has also found that many adult men do not have any close friends they feel they can turn to for help or advice in a crisis.
The good news is there’s a lot we can do to turn this around! There are many ways we can support the men in our lives when they are dealing with mental health problems. Developing and maintaining close relationships with the people that we do feel like we can talk about serious topics with is so crucial, especially for guys.
HeadsUpGuys.ca has lots of great tips for supporters about how to have an initial conversation (like the video above) and how to provide ongoing support to guys dealing with depression and suicide, and lots of great resources for guys to better understand what they’re going through. Confidentiality and anonymity can be really important, and Kids Help Phone has a new phone counselling and chat service specifically for teen guys called BroTalk. Mental health is now an important focus for Movember — and their fundraising dollars are supporting programs like ours as well as unique awareness campaigns.
In Next Gen Men’s after-school program, we do talk specifically about mental health, but we also talk about masculinity and gender issues in all our programming, so that the young men we work with understand that they don’t have to follow the old rules of what it means to ‘be a man’ and that this shouldn’t hold us back from addressing our mental health.
With campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk, we’re opening up more to discussing mental health and mental illness across Canada, but we still have a lot of work to do.
One in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year, so we probably have a lot more everyday opportunities to use Mental Health First Aid than the ‘traditional’ first aid and CPR course we took when we were younger – I’ve found this be very true for myself, already.