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Announcing Mental Health First Aid

Updated: Apr 5

A series of drawings of three heads with three figures interacting with a head each. The first is showing the brain thinking, the second has the person meditating and flowers on the head, and the third has a figure solving the puzzle pieces in a person's head.

The vast farmland, small towns, and big lake that dominate Huron County is home to 61,000 residents. The neighbouring county of Perth, with a comparable farming community and the city of Stratford, has a population of 82,000. These two communities, like many others, were affected by the wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19. In particular, COVID-19 reshaped the way in which many people work. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) estimates that in a given calendar year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness (Link). In rural areas, such as Huron and Perth counties, this can become more pronounced or arduous experience as accessing preventative care, supports and treatment for mental health can be strained by social determinants of health such as geography, age, income and access to healthcare services (link).


Research conducted by Gateway CERH’s ‘Be Well, Work Well’ Project identified that were various challenges during the pandemic in workplaces related to how mental health and wellness issues were managed. As a result of the general upheaval created by the pandemic and the exacerbation of long-standing conditions, mental health awareness education was recommended as a tool to address these challenges. The ‘Mental Health First Aid’ program is a perfect solution to this recommendation.  


What is Mental Health First Aid? 


Mental health First Aid logo. It features the caption "for everyone, for all."

The Mental Health Commission of Canada defines Mental Health First Aid, (MHFA), as“...the help provided to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. Just as physical first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, MHFA is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved.” (Link). It is an educational and responsive module to help assist others who are experiencing challenges. That being said, it is not a substitute for a trained mental health professional.


As with any health issue that can arise in a person’s life, people benefit from access to timely and well-informed support in their community. Mental health is as important as physical health because it can affect someone’s overall wellbeing and quality of life. Furthermore, there is a reciprocal relationship between physical and mental health; the state of being sick can be a stressful experience. By the same token, stress can have a negative impact on your physical body. 


Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace 


MFHA is an educational program that is well-suited to any workplace and can assist both employers and employees in managing mental health issues. MHFA is a high quality educational program that is adaptable to almost all work, personal, and volunteer environments. There is a significant amount of empirical evidence to support the fact that it improves knowledge and awareness of mental health issues for those who participate in the program (Learn more here: link).


These factors can make MFHA a major instrument of positive change in workplaces throughout Huron County. 


Based on peer review studies, some of the potential benefits from this initiative for the employees trained with the MHFA courses include: 


  1. Increased knowledge of Mental Health Literacy such as the signs, symptoms and risk factors for mental health issues. 

  2. Improved confidence in providing help to others when they are experiencing a mental health crisis 

  3. Increased ability to identify professional and self-help resources for individuals with mental health problems (Link)


There are also potential benefits for the employer including: 


  1. Decreased employee time away from work due to sickness

  2. Increased safety in workplace due to comprehensive training

  3. Strengthened resiliency in community to cope and manage crises that emerge


Evidence has shown the provision of MHFA education benefits the community by improving the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours pertaining to mental health issues. This is an example of an effective public health approach for reducing stigma surrounding mental health issues of the community (Link).


Through MHFA education workplaces can become more inclusive and welcoming for those who have had long-standing struggles with their mental health. Furthermore, it benefits those whose struggle with mental health that has emerged as the result of the pandemic or through compounding life stressors. 


The Be Well Work Well Project 

Be Well, Work Well logo. It features a three hands together and is captioned on the image "taking care of one business at a time"

Gateway CERH’s “Be Well, Work Well” was a community-based research project aimed to understand mental health and wellness in the labour market. This study took place from 2021-2022 with the recommendation to provide mental health education to workplaces in the county.


Be Well, Work Well outcomes: 


  • 90% of business were impacted by the pandemic 

  • 72% of employers noticed a change in employee behaviours related to mental well being, (eg. increased absenteeism, noticeable stress/anxiety) 

  • 78% of workplaces indicated that there was an impact on their mental health 


As one employer states: 

“From my own perspective, I certainly would say that my sense of well-being has taken a bit of beating over the period of COVID. I think most people have one way or another.”  

For a full project report, visit the Be Well, Work Well page here: https://www.gatewayruralhealth.ca/be-well-work-well


What does Gateway CERH Do? 


A photo of Dr. Erin Ross (She/Her). She is a psychologist and a certified mental health first aid facilitator
Dr. Erin Ross, Psychologist & Certified Mental Health First Aid facilitator

Developed in 2001, Mental Health First Aid is a one day, educational program focused on teaching participants how to talk about mental health and assist others who are experiencing a decline and/or crisis in their mental health. The MHFA course is an internationally recognized evidence-based anti-stigma mental health training program for workplaces and communities (Link).


In Huron County, Gateway CERH’s research suggested that there is limited access to general mental health education and very few in-person options.


In response to these unique rural challenges, Gateway CERH is providing in-person Mental Health First Aid Training in Huron County. Certified MHFA facilitators are Bonnie Baynham, Grace Bonnett, Lynne Harris and Dr. Erin Ross.  


Please check out the Mental Health First Aid Site for more details: https://www.gatewayruralhealth.ca/mentalhealthfirstaid


If interested in joining a course, please reach out to mhfatraininggateway@gmail.com for more information. 

 

If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis or has suicide-related concerns, you can connect with a responder to get help without judgment by calling or texting 9-8-8. It’s toll-free, 24/7 with support in English or French.


Gateway CERH has some more mental health and addiction resources found on the website at: https://www.gatewayruralhealth.ca/mental-health-addictions

 

This blog post was written by Sage Milne, Research Assistant. Background research was accomplished by Maitland Roy, Research Assistant in 2023.

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