Mental Health First Aid prepares students personally and professionally

When most people think of first aid, they imagine chest compressions and visible wounds, but Levi Kolich knows that often people’s wounds and illnesses can be much tougher to see.

The fourth-year Public Health student is taking part in the Mental Health and Addiction (HLSC 3P25) course that adds to the theory being taught in the classroom by ensuring every participant becomes certified in Mental Health First Aid.

As one of more than 1,000 experiential education opportunities at Brock University designed to take students’ learning beyond a traditional lecture environment, Kolich said the exercise has helped to provide a real-world connection for the concepts the class is learning about.

“I think it has been really eye-opening,” he said. “During the beginning of the course, we learned a lot of stats about how evident and relevant mental health issues and disorders can be. Going through all of the hands-on scenarios for how to deal with someone experiencing mental health trauma has made me feel ready to assist in those situations when I see them.”

Sandy Howe, Brock’s Associate Director of Experiential Education and one of two Mental Health First Aid facilitators to lead the certification exercise, said the training could be used in many areas of students’ lives.

“Learning about how to have an uncomfortable conversation, both in their personal interactions as well as possibly in professional practice, is incredibly valuable and could ultimately save lives,” she said. “Through simulated conversations, case studies, videos and discussion about personal experiences, they begin to build their practice.”

The simulated exercises led by Howe and Julie Fennell, Brock’s Health Promotion Educator, focus on five core principles, which spell the acronym ALGEE:

  • Assess for the risk of suicide and/or harm
  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage other supports

Kolich said the acronym has helped to simplify the teaching to ensure everyone is ready to help someone in need.

“It’s like a golden rule you follow when assessing a situation,” he said. “A lot of people have a hard time knowing what to do, but it provides you with steps and makes you feel more comfortable to confidently offer help.”

To accommodate the required training necessary to earn the certification, the course’s instructor, Erica Bridge, set aside four weeks of class time at the beginning of the semester for students to complete the certification, which she said positively influences the rest of the course.

“Learning about Mental Health First Aid at the beginning of the course positions us really well to learn what mental health challenges look like in minority populations, including new immigrants, Indigenous peoples, refugees and members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community,” she said.

As Kolich prepares to receive his formal mental health certification and apply it to the remainder of the course, he is ready to put the training to use after he graduates this spring.

“I’m hoping to become a teacher, and I know I’ll be able to use this with students and co-workers as well,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know where to get help, but if they know I’m trained, it might be easier to come and talk to me in the classroom and whenever else they might need support.”

To learn more about Brock’s Experiential Education options, visit the Experiential Education website.

Students in need of immediate, 24/7 assistance can call Counselling Services at 1-833-276-2533 or the Good 2 Talk Hotline.

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