Mental Health First Aid was the first training my company Arpeggio Health Services offered. I took this course (as a participant) in 2011 on a whim after stumbling across some information about it online. At that time I was working in a clinical role in mental health care and was looking for a professional development that would count toward the Continuing Education Credits I’m required to accrue each year. MHFA was a relatively new program then, especially in eastern Canada, so signed up for the course and soon thereafter made the five hour trek from southern New Brunswick to Halifax to participate. The program was owned and regulated by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, so it sounded legit, but beyond that I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I’d probably walk away with some interesting new tidbits but since I had already worked in the mental health field for several years I assumed there’d be some overlap with the knowledge I already had.
Boy oh boy. That course lit my fire.
I could make a list a mile long of the new things I learned in those two days, but suffice it to say the way I thought about mental health had been flipped on its head. I saw my own mental health differently. I recognized, in hindsight, conversations I’d engaged in with friends in the past where I now saw possible signs that they were struggling a bit; situations where I could have extended an olive branch, asked a follow-up question, taken an ODD remark seriously rather than glossing over it or laughing it off. I had a new appreciation for how hard it is for someone who’s dealing with a mental health problem to ask for help, and how sometimes the most a person’s comfortable doing is putting out feelers in hopes that someone might take the hint. Most significantly, I no longer saw mental health as just the specific field I worked in; my eyes were opened to the fact that we ALL have mental health and we are ALL in positions to potentially help someone we know when they need it most… if we have the necessary knowledge and skillset.
People need to know about this, I thought. People need to know training like this exists. They need to know why it’s important, and how likely it is that they’ll actually use the skills they learn in real life.
I looked into what it would take to be able to deliver the program and learned that because of my clinical work I qualified to do so. I travelled to Ottawa for the week-long instructor training just a few months later and the rest is history. I’m now a certified instructor for three different Mental Health First Aid programs (Basic Training plus Youth and Seniors specific adaptations). To date I’ve delivered 177 MHFA courses to more than 3,000 participants in eastern Canada.
So why should you push to have your team members certified in Mental Health First Aid training?
Similar to the main purpose of physical first aid/CPR training, Mental Health First Aid save lives. Participants learn how to safely and appropriately handle situations where someone, like a friend or co-worker, is struggling with a mental health problem and research tells us those without these skills often walk away from situations where help was needed because they didn’t recognize help was needed or didn’t feel comfortable getting involved. Imagine the impact this could have in your workplace. Aside from the obvious benefit to employees whose pain could be eased by being better understood by their co-workers and getting help when they need it, mental health issues are the source of gigantic costs to workplaces across all industries. Disability claims, turnover, disengagement and more impact Canadian workplaces to the tune of about $33 billion annually. Tons of research now clearly shows that mental health training is a sound investment with a short-term Return on Investment of nearly 2:1, a number which increases over time when these types of initiatives are sustained.
Mental health education and initiatives in the workplace have always been important, but is perhaps even more relevant in these stressful times. The psychological impact of the global pandemic has been profound. As workplaces struggle with the constantly changing landscape of operating during COVID-19, uncertainty in a new reality for Canadian workers. Fearfulness about contracting the virus at work, anxiety about the possibility of being laid off, worry about new protocols… the mental wellbeing of even the most resilient employees is being tested. Do your team members have an understanding and insight into their own mental health? Do they know how to recognize signs that a co-worker might be struggling? Even more importantly, are they comfortable taking action and initiating a conversation about it to offer help?
I’m often asked who this training is meant for – as in, what type of professional background should participants have going in to the course, or who is the material geared toward. My answer: humans living on planet earth. Truly, if you are a human being, especially if you’re a human who occasionally interacts with others humans, this course is for you.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be adding Mental Health First Aid training sessions to our schedule. Our team is also ready to bring this program right to your workplace and train your staff together. Keep an eye out at www.arpeggiohealthservices.com and on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/arpeggiohealthservices) for details and registration. Subscribers to the Workplace Wellness Weekly blog are eligible for a 10% discount on registration fees for courses taking place in the coming months.
Have a great week, everyone! Thanks for reading.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on workplace mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.