OHS Canada Magazine

Newfoundland college begins training in mental first aid

February 4, 2013

Health & Safety First Aid Mental Health

ST. JOHN'S (Canadian OH&S News)

ST. JOHN’S (Canadian OH&S News)

A 17-campus college in Newfoundland and Labrador is set to train four full-time counsellors in mental health first aid.

The College of the North Atlantic announced on Jan. 22 that it has received $15,000 though the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund to certify four staff members as instructors for mental health first aid training. The program, from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), teaches participants how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help and guide a person towards appropriate professional help, according to information from the MHCC website.

“The college has seen an increase in the number of learners experiencing mental health issues, a trend that is national at many post-secondary institutions,” said Elizabeth Chaulk, associate vice-president of learner services at the college.

The college was spurred to partner with Bell on the initiative after receiving feedback from staff and faculty members that they often could not tell if someone was dealing with a mental health issue, as well as not knowing how to respond or support them, Chaulk added.


She reported that the four certified trainers took the five-and-a-half day “train-the-trainer” course, which provides help to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. “There was a rigorous selection criterion and the four who participated said it was intense,” Chaulk said.

Information from the MHCC said that the first aid courses it offers cover a variety of mental health issues, such as mood and anxiety disorders, psychosis, substance use disorder, eating disorders and deliberate self-injury, as well as crisis situations such as suicidal behaviour, overdoses, panic attacks, reactions to traumatic events and psychotic episodes. “Just as physical first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, [mental health first aid] is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved,” added a statement from the college.

Chaulk said the goal is for each trainer to deliver three courses each — a requirement to become and remain certified annually. With each course expected to have between 15 and 25 participants, the course could reach approximately 200 colleagues, students and community groups from across the province. “It’s considered an investment in supporting the needs of our learners and faculty staff,” she said of the additional costs associated with the program, such as travel costs to get counsellors trained and course manuals.

Rebecca Bell, community relations manager with Bell Aliant, said that the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund is an annual program that allows the company to provide grants of $5,000 to $50,000 to organizations, hospitals and agencies focused on improving access to mental health care and making a positive impact in their communities from coast-to-coast.

In addition to the funding for the College of the North Atlantic, Bell Aliant, in partnership with Bell, also provided $5,000 in funding for a mental health first aid initiative with the Kingston/Greenwood Mental Health Association in Greenwood, N.S. and in 2011, provided funding to MindCare NB to hire and train a bilingual mental health first aid trainer for the francophone market in New Brunswick, Bell said.

She added that “we look for projects that are regional in scope,” and in the case of the College of the North Atlantic, it is a province-wide initiative that will provide training across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Organizations can apply to the fund every year, but once they have received funding, they cannot apply again for two years.



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