Nova Scotia

First aid training course for mental health coming to Sydney

Teaching empathy is at the top of the lesson plan for a mental health first aid training program coming to Sydney, N.S.

Course will be held Sept. 7, 8, and is open to anyone over the age of 15

The mental health first aid program is designed to help people recognize symptoms of mental health distress and provide support until professional help arrives. (Peerayot/Shutterstock)

Teaching empathy is at the top of the lesson plan for a mental health first aid training program coming to Sydney, N.S.

The program is designed, just like traditional first aid, to enable people to recognize symptoms of mental health distress and provide support until professional help arrives.

The course is being offered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, a non-profit group funded by Health Canada. Elizabeth Eldridge, a certified mental health first aid instructor, will be leading the program.

'Support really needs to be there'

Eldridge says she would like to see mental health first aid regarded similarly to traditional first aid.

"If we look just at statistics, it is much more likely that a person will be in a position to use their mental health first aid skills rather than happening to be at Sobeys when someone has a heart attack or something along those lines," she said.

"Our statistics tell us that [mental health distress] is happening more and more often and the support really needs to be there."

Reduce mental health stigma

The course is open to anyone over the age of 15 and will be offered on Sept. 7 and 8 at the Holiday Inn Sydney Waterfront. The two-day course costs $185 per person, plus tax.

Topics range from anxiety disorders and PTSD to psychotic disorders in both adults and youth. Eldridge says she emphasizes the importance of using empathy rather than sympathy when approaching someone who is in mental health distress.

"We talk about psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia. I don't have to know exactly what that's like, to go through psychosis myself. [But] I can be empathetic to this person who is really stressed out and not in a good place. I think everybody knows what that feels like."

Program offered across Maritimes

The program also aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems so more people suffering will seek treatment. It is preceded by a suicide awareness course called safeTALK to help people recognize when a suicidal person is reaching out for help. That course is being offered for $60 plus tax.

Eldridge says the courses do not train people to be therapists or mental health professionals but early intervention can help head off future mental health crises, such as self-harming actions.

The mental health first aid course is also being offered in New Brunswick, Yarmouth, Wolfville, and Prince Edward Island. Anyone interested in the program can contact Elizabeth Eldridge at mhfa@email.com.

About the Author

Jennifer Ludlow

Associate producer

Jennifer Ludlow is an associate producer and technical director for Mainstreet Cape Breton and also works as a reporter. All tips are welcome. Contact her at jennifer.ludlow@cbc.ca