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‘Half a million strong’: Mental Health First Aid training grows virtual

From Mental Health Commission of Canada

Last evening, hundreds of people gathered online to celebrate the launch of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) virtual training.

Like conventional first aid, which teaches people how to intervene in a physical health emergency, MHFA gives trainees the tools and confidence to support someone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

“Never has the need for MHFA been greater,” said Louise Bradley, the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC’s) president and CEO. “If we’re going to get ahead of a COVID-19 mental illness echo pandemic, the time to learn how to support one another is now.”

Hosting the Facebook Live celebration was mental health advocate and singer-songwriter Séan McCann, who is living in recovery from problematic substance use and is eager to spread the word about the value of talking openly as an antidote to stigma. “I used to travel the country in one of Canada’s biggest party bands (Great Big Sea). Today, my mission is to walk those same roads with a very different message… I’ve still got a guitar in my hand, but now I’m singing about the power of hope and recovery.”

McCann’s message resonated with the MHFA trainers, trainees, and MHCC staff at the event, who were thrilled to take a brief pause from the hard work that went into adapting the training to the virtual format.

“This is a huge step for us,” said Mike Pietrus, director of Opening Minds, the MHCC department that oversees MHFA training and development. “After marking the milestone of delivering face-to-face training to 500,000 people in Canada, this pivot to virtual training will allow us to grow the movement significantly further.”

Mere days into the COVID-19 lockdown, Pietrus’ team jumped into action, moving at lightning speed to modify their resiliency and crisis training and provide free virtual courses to meet the needs of essential workers.

“This was a Herculean effort,” Bradley explained. “We delivered free training to over 5,000 people in front-line roles across the country. And with all the knowledge our learning specialists and trainers gained through that process, we’ve been able to hone MHFA training so that it complies with all the newest and best practices for online delivery. Everything has been modified to meet participants’ needs.”

Denise Waligora, an MHCC training and delivery specialist and MHFA master trainer, agreed. “As trainers, we’ve got to rethink how to connect with participants over the screen. We’ve got to make sure everyone feels comfortable and safe. And we have to make sure we uphold the quality of our content — that’s key.”

With virtual training able to hurdle geographic barriers, Bradley hopes to see a million people trained in the next five years. “Virtually, anything is possible!”

Quick Facts

  • MHFA is active in 25 countries (in Canada since 2007).
  • Over 500,000 people from 5,000+ communities in Canada have been trained in MHFA.
  • Over 10,000 MHFA courses have been delivered in Canada.
  • Adaptations of MHFA include courses for adults who interact with youth, First Nations, Inuit, Northern peoples, police, seniors, and the veteran community.

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Mental Health Commission of Canada
613-683-3748 / media@mentalhealthcommission.ca

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The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for change, an organization designed to recommend improvements to the mental health system on a national level. We are not directly involved in individual cases of advocacy, outreach, service delivery or local supports.