Mental Health First Aid in Canada courses - Zoë considers the trainingWhen I was about 13, the chimney in our family home caught fire (and no, it wasn’t my fault).

My mom became hysterical. “Call the fire department,” I said. She kept screaming and running around the house. I followed, repeating, “Call the fire department.”

I called the fire department.

I’ve always jumped in at accident scenes. I’m calm, focused and know what’s needed.

Natural-born first responders

I used to have no idea why this was so. Now I know that this is common amongst people with ADHD. The high level of stimulation in emergency situations focuses us, giving us the clarity and presence of mind that lets us act quickly and efficiently while others are freaking out.

I’m sure my hyper-focus also kicks in, allowing me to ignore the chaos and focus on the victim and their needs.

Recently, I found myself in a situation that called for emotional rather than physical first aid. Four others had arrived at the scene before me, but no one seemed to know what to do. I stepped in and took charge.

Over the years I’ve intervened when friends have been suicidal or had panic attacks; I’ve deflected would-be assailants in the throes of substance intoxication; and I’ve kept watch over someone who shifted from extreme disorientation into a catatonic state. None of this was in a professional capacity; it was just life unfolding.

What?! There’s training for this?!

Recently, I overheard the term Mental Health First Aid on the radio. Huh?

It never ceases to amaze me how much I don’t know.

I just spent several hours writing this post, only to realize that I’m probably the last one at Psych Central to know! (former blogger Kate Theida wrote about it in October, 2011).

My only explanation is that I live up here in the wilds of Canada, and I’m not the only Canadian to think this is the latest greatest thing. At least, this is what the radio program that was talking about it led me to believe.

So, for the few random others out there who haven’t heard of it either, here’s my amazing discovery!

Mental Health First Aid training

According to the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Canada website, MHFA was developed and introduced by Professors Anthony Jorm and Betty Kitchener from the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University in 2001.

It’s now a global program sponsored by the ORYGEN Research Center at the University of Melbourne, Australia, with 14 countries,  including the USA and Canada, offering training.

When I heard about MHFA, many recent incidents where mental, emotional, or substance abuse issues were implicated came to mind. What might have happened had there been someone on the scene with the skills to diffuse the situation until the police, ambulance, or other emergency responders arrived?

Sadly, it’s more often than not the case that a mental health emergency scares the beejezus out of bystanders. That’s one reason this program is so appealing, to dispel fear and misinformation.

All too often, emergency professionals have also been lacking in these skills to the point of exacerbating, rather than helping, those suffering mental and emotional crises.

In the case of the police, sending an unskilled, under-trained and armed emergency responder can turn a would-be assistant into an assailant. The result can be deadly.

Education about mental health first aid could mean the difference between life and death for both the sufferer and the responder(s).

I’ll keep you posted

Helping others in emergency situations comes naturally to me, but I’m excited that there is formal training available that might help me to be more knowledgeable and effective in the future.

I’m looking at enrolling in the MHFA Basic Course this fall. If I take the plunge, I’ll let you know what I think of the training.

In the meantime, have any of you heard of the MHFA training program? Has anyone taken it and used the skills in an emergency situation?

I’d love to hear from you

If you haven’t heard of the program, what do you think? Is this something useful?

Are you aware of situations where there was a mental health meltdown and it was handled badly because no one knew how to respond?

Please share your experiences and thoughts!


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