Someone who can listen: CMHA to host 20 Mental Health First Aid workshops over next year

Canadian Mental Health Association PA Branch executive director Doug Kinar. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Sometimes it’s tough to find people who are willing to listen, but the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Prince Albert chapter hopes to change that by training residents in Mental Health First Aid.

The CMHA applied for funding a few months back in hopes of starting such a program in Prince Albert. CMHA-PA executive director Doug Kinar said it’s full steam ahead after they were approved.

“I’m very pleased because providing mental health first aid training reduces the stigma of mental health,” Kinar said. “It gives more people an understanding of mental health and it gives so many more people the opportunity to help those in crisis.

“So often the help that people need is just for someone to listen. This workshop … is a communication tool to teach people how to listen and how to answer the right questions.”

The CMHA plans to hold 20 Mental Health First Aid workshops over the next year. Kinar said the goal is to train 500 people in the area.

“What especially became relevant over the last few years because of COVID is mental health affects everybody,” Kinar said. “When you’re in a crisis, there’s a need for you to talk, get what’s going on inside, and get it out. Mental health first aid teaches people to listen non-judgmentally to what’s and to give you a chance to voice your thoughts and concerns.”

Kinar said Mental Health First Aid is designed to fill the gaps in Prince Albert services. He acknowledged that local organizations and crisis lines provide plenty of service, but said those services aren’t always available on weekends, evenings, or holidays.

He said most residents have close friends or family members who will listen to them if they are having trouble. This program is aimed at helping those who don’t.

However, Kinar said not everyone is comfortable speaking with family and friends about their problems. Some are not comfortable with using help lines or local programs either. He said Mental Health First Aid can help reach those people.

“Having somebody who can listen is so important,” he said.

“The more people who are trained, the healthier out society will be,” he added.

Mental Health First Aid courses first began in Australia in 2021 thanks to the efforts of a university professor who studied mental health, and a nurse who specialized in health education. It was created at the ORYGEN Research Centre at the University of Melbourne, and spread to 24 countries around the world, including Canada.

The program is available in specialized versions which focus on specific groups like veterans, police officers, seniors, and northern peoples. Course participants will receive training to intervene in panic attacks, suicidal behavior, and acute stress reactions, among others. However the course is not intended to teach residents how to become therapists.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), a national non-profit created by the Canadian government in 2007 to study mental health, mental illness, and addictions, says the goal is to teach participants how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help, and guide a person towards appropriate professional help.

The MHCC expects Mental Health First Aid to eventually become as common as CPR and Physical First Aid training.

Residents who want to receive Mental Health First Aid training in Prince Albert can contact Kinar at 306-960-6811.