Mental Health First Aid: Helping people help others deal with mental health

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 29, second only to accidental death.

It’s a staggering statistic, and one that finds itself in the company of many other striking statistics regarding mental health. Suicide is a leading cause of death in young people. One in five Canadians will experience mental health issues or illness in any given year. And frighteningly, about 60 per cent of people with mental health problems won’t seek help for fear of being labelled.

These issues are only compounded by the deficiencies within the health care system when it comes to mental health treatment, therapy, and diagnosis. That’s where Mental Health First Aid comes in, bridging the gap between the general public and those afflicted by mental health issues, as well as the gap between those afflicted and the services and resources available.

With today being World Mental Health Day, we at Kingstonist checked in with Debra Lefebvre, owner of Limestone City Mental Health First Aid. Her organization focuses on community mental health, offering Mental Health First Aid courses that provide education and training so that people can help others who are struggling with mental health or experiencing a mental health crisis.

As a registered nurse with advanced training and a Master’s Degree, Lefebvre has seen first-hand how mental health issues touch nearly everyone – those who suffer with mental illness, and those who know and love them. Whether it be in a hospital while she’s working, or in the work she does with youth homelessness in Kingston, Lefebvre said she’s dealt with mental health issues basically everywhere she’s been. And creating Limestone City Mental Health First Aid is her way of trying to make a difference to the ongoing issues surrounding mental health.

“I’ve worked with vulnerable populations for my entire career. Mental health and mental health disorders and illnesses, and the people who deal with them, they are just another vulnerable population for many, many reason,” Lefebvre said.

“So it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve landed in this place in my career because I’m drawn towards helping others, and this is just another way in which to do it.”

Lefebvre refers to Mental Health First Aid as “CPR for the mind.” The courses she instructs – which include basic Mental Health First Aid for adults, as well as Mental Health First Aid for adults who interact with youth – are a tool kit those who take them. From how to approach a person who is dealing with mental health issues, to where to direct that person to find additional help, Mental Health First Aid training offers students a new found confidence and an sense of empowerment in dealing with situations they might otherwise have avoided.

“It gives people skills help someone who has a mental health issue, or who might be in a full blown crisis,” she said of the two-day course.

Oftentimes, the biggest obstacle between someone suffering due to mental health issues and those that want to help is ignorance. Understanding mental health issues is key to being able to help those with mental health issues, she explained, using an instance involving her daughter as an example.

Lefebvre and her husband, who also works in healthcare, had hired some individuals to help around their house with a few tasks. One of the individuals was “sitting on our driveway and having a delightful conversation with himself,” she explained.

“My daughter, who was 10 or 12 at the time, came in the house and she was terrified. She said ‘Mommy this guy is just talking. It sounds like he’s talking to somebody, but there isn’t anybody there, and he’s actually answering questions,’” Lefebvre recalled

“And so that was a crash course with my young child to let her know that the individual was talking with someone who was very real to him, but not to us,” she continued.

“My daughter was exhibiting such fear, because she was ignorant. She wasn’t aware. And that’s how most people respond. They’re fearful. They don’t know what to do.”

Mental Health First Aid reduces that fear, Lefebvre explained, and builds awareness while giving her students the understanding and confidence to know that there is nothing to be fearful of.

The classroom environment her courses offer creates a safe space where people are welcome to share and learn together, and the courses can be given to those aged 18 and over in groups as small as eight or as large as 25. For larger groups of coworkers or organizations wanting to equip themselves with Mental Health First Aid training, Lefebvre brings in her other trained instructors to break the larger group into smaller sections.

Limestone City Mental Health First Aid has two courses coming up later this month, so check out their website for more information – the knowledge one can gain through the course could literally mean the difference between life and death for someone they come in contact with.

“Mental health is as important a physical health, and one so greatly impacts the other. It’s part of being well, it’s part of being whole,” Lefebvre said.

To find out more about Limestone City Mental Health First Aid, click here.

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