Waterloo-developed mental health first aid kits give accessible support

A Waterloo woman created a mental health first aid kit in 2015 and since then, it's been distributed widely among university students and used in mental health workshops.
The cards are organized by particular emotions or symptoms the user may be experiencing. (Courtesy of Tina Chan)

A mental health support kit developed by a Waterloo woman has been widely distributed among university students, workplaces and veterans since its launch in 2015.

The PASS kit was created by Tina Chan, now a master's student at the University of Waterloo's public health and health systems graduate program, when she saw a need to help people get more immediate access to support in times of struggle.

"The main inspiration of it is that when someone has symptoms of a panic attack coming on, or symptoms of anxiety, we don't usually have the information on hand," Chan told CBC News. "And information on your phone is still one step too far removed."

The backs of the cards have specific research-based advice for helping users get past the symptoms they are experiencing. (Courtesy of Tina Chan)

PASS stands for panic, anxiety and stress support.

The newest iteration of the kit includes a stress star, ear plugs, a sleeping mask, a pack of gum and a deck of 25 cards, each with specific steps a person can take if they are experiencing symptoms.

The advice is based on research in scientific journals. One example is a box breathing technique to help users calm down.

"I have been receiving testimonials from students," said Chan, "They would see their roommate having a struggle and they would actually bring out the cards and they would discuss that together."

Used in the community

The kit is also a part of the Mental Health First Aid certification course run in Waterloo every month by Mega Health at Work.

Robin Bender is the founder and she said her clients have found the kits to be useful and purchased them for family and friends after the workshop.

All they want to do is get out of how they're currently feeling and feel better.- Robin Bender, founder of Mega Health at Work

Through Bender's request, Chan has also created a set of cards that are specific to post-traumatic stress disorder for a veterans event Bender was a part of in summer 2017.

"In those moments where [veterans] are dissociating or whatever they're experiencing, to have something in front of you that you can go to and utilize is extremely beneficial," Bender said.

Now, Chan is working to develop a new kit for people who have PTSD because it's an "area that really needs support right now."

While the kits don't equate seeing a health professional, Bender said it's a resource that's "simple to carry and use" without having to rely on access to the internet or the person's counsellor or psychiatrist.

"People who are struggling with mental illness, that's all they want. All they want to do is get out of how they're currently feeling and feel better, so that's what the tool gives them."

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