‘Mental health first aid’ on offer at college

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has adapted its mental health first aid course to specifically help people in the North.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has adapted its mental health first aid course to specifically help people in the North.

The project has been in the pilot phase in Yukon since the beginning of the year, but was officially launched this summer.

It’s fairly common for someone to take a first aid course to treat physical injuries. The same approach should be taken to mental health, said the commission’s Sjors Reijers.

“If I sprain my ankle, chances are you’ll know what to do. If I have a panic attack, chances are you won’t,” he said.

“I am as likely to have a panic attack as I am to sprain my ankle. In some instances, more likely.”

Mental health first aid courses started in Australia in 2001. They were brought to Canada in 2006.

A basic course in the Yukon began through the Northern Institute of Social Justice, part of Yukon College, in 2012.

This updated version, dubbed Mental Health First Aid for Northern Peoples, is an adaptation of the other programs, with a specific focus on the North.

“It takes elements of both the basic course and the youth course and combines them into one. It does have a focus on things like isolation, that is unique to the Northern experience,” Reijers said.

Attendees learn about different types of disorders including substance-related disorders, anxiety, mood, and psychotic disorders as well as deliberate self-injury.

Research shows people who take the course are more confident providing help and are more aware of the symptoms around mental health problems, said Reijers. The course also helps reduce the stigma around mental health, he said.

The new program “looks at the experiences of people in the North, whether it’s First Nation or northern Inuit peoples, and incorporates that into the material, and also highlights some of the challenges of living in northern and remote communities,” said the institute’s executive director, Joanne Lewis.

The new program touches on things like isolation, seasonal affective disorder and the wait to get to resources if you live in a remote place, Lewis said.

Since the northern-specific version of the program began in January, it has been offered publicly as well as through contracts with specific businesses or organizations.

In May it was offered to students taking the home support program at the Yukon College campus in Haines Junction.

That was the first time the institute started working in partnership with the Yukon government’s mental health branch.

Working with the government provides access to more people who have been trained to teach the program, Lewis said.

Two people at the college are trainers, but this partnership brings that number up to about 10 people.

“So we can offer it more frequently and in more places,” Lewis said.

So far 32 people have taken the three-day northern specific version and 84 have taken the two-day basic version.

The northern course is being offered next September 22 to 24 at the college.

The cost is $200 per person.

Contact Ashley Joannou at


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