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Value of Mental Health First Aid becoming more recognized

Participants in the program are taught how to recognize the more common mental health concerns and how to respond
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Q. How are you doing?

A. Fine.

There’s often more behind this superficial banter which happens every day.

There’s a good chance you’re not doing fine.  

One in five Canadians have a mental health problem at some point in their lives, says the Canadian Mental Health Association website. 

It goes beyond having a bad day. 

Mental health issues can involve anxiety, depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress to name a few.

If left to fester, they can have a dramatic impact on your relationships, workplace and overall health. Billions of dollars each year are lost through absenteeism and compensation claims. Most importantly, there’s a personal toll.

With physical injuries First Aid can stop the pain, stem the bleeding and quite possibly save a life. It provides valuable time for someone to seek help.

The well-known concept of First Aid can also be applied to mental health.

“Sometimes it is easier to recognize when a person is experiencing a physical medical emergency,” said Lisa Carricato, who works full time as the Training Specialist at Maamwesying North Shore Community Health Services and, in addition, runs a private Mental Health Education and Training Consulting business.

She said the same is true of mental health first aid training.

“Participants in this program are taught how to recognize some of the more common mental health concerns and how to respond in order to help the person in crisis get the additional assistance they need.”

A 20-year-veteran in mental health issues, Carricato taught Mental Health First Aid for more than 10 years.

She provided training to numerous businesses and institutions in Algoma. The need is growing as well as the recognition.

It’s a legal requirement that workplaces of a certain number of employees have people trained in First Aid. Carricato hopes that someday similar rules could apply to mental health.

“Over the last 10 years a lot of workplaces are seeing the value of training their workers,” she said.

The list of places Carricato taught includes Sault College, Tenaris, PUC and Brookfield Power.

Much of what is taught is common sense and compassion. It’s a lot like traditional First Aid.

“We tend to look at physical health and mental health very differently and that needs to change,” said Carricato.  “When someone is experiencing a physical health issue it is not considered nosey to show concern and ask  if they are ok.” 

If you see a person alone and unconscious on the road and even if you didn’t have training in First Aid, you’d recognize that person needs help, call for assistance and stay with them until an ambulance arrives, said Carricato.

She said we must overcome the double standard.

“Would they think, I don’t know this person – it's not my business and it would be nosey for me to interfere?  Would they think, I am not a paramedic or doctor so I can't help them? The answer to these questions is obviously no. Just as we don’t use these reasons for not helping someone in a medical crisis, they shouldn’t factor in when we are considering whether to assist someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Mental Health First Aid training covers topics such as substance related disorders, mood related disorders, anxiety and trauma related disorders as well as psychotic disorders. 

“The 12-hour evidence-based Mental Health First Aid Basic course has been proven to give participants the confidence and skills to engage someone with an emerging mental health problem or in a mental health crisis,” said Carricato. 

She said it provides greater ability to recognize mental health problems.

Mental health first aid providers are trained to listen and respond in a nonjudgmental way and offer information about how to obtain help from trained professionals.

Sault College has taken advantage of the training.

“I absolutely would recommend this training as it is invaluable,” said Tracy Dewar, a youth worker at the college. “First Aid and CPR is required by many employers within our community and the Mental Health First Aid should be viewed the same.  The result of both training  is the same. They both can save lives.  My program (Youth Job Connection) allows me to offer this training free of charge to the youth I work with. Not only does this support the community but also allows them to be more competitive within the job market.”

Dewar said she was able to use what she learned at Mental Health First Aid.

“It allowed me the confidence to have a conversation with an individual about mental health issues and do my very best to keep them safe until a trained professional attended and took over.  It also reminded me that someone struggling with mental health related issues needs to be given the same respect and assistance that someone having a heart attack, or any other medical issue deserves,” said Dewar.

Carricato said people will likely use their Mental Health First Aid knowledge more than traditional First Aid.

She said learning Mental Health First Aid goes hand-in-hand with a caring community.

Many people in our community have First Aid and CPR and it’s because we want our community to be safer. Mental Health First Aid should be looked at the same way, said Carricato.

If you are experiencing mental health challenges and need help contact Central Access Information Algoma at 759-5989 or the Mental Health Helpline is at 1-866-531-2600.

If you are interested in taking Mental Health first Aid you can visit

And if you would like a local training please email



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Frank Rupnik

About the Author: Frank Rupnik

Frank Rupnik is Editor of SooToday. Frank is a veteran writer and editor who has worked at daily newspapers across Ontario for more than 30 years
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