NNSL Photo/Graphic

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Mental health course travels the Deh Cho
'Tools and information empowering,' says facilitator

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 13, 2015

Regardless of one's nationality, ethnicity or gender, anyone who knows more than 10 people probably knows someone suffering from a mental health disorder.

NNSL photo/graphic

The second of three mental health first aid courses in the Deh Cho has concluded in Fort Simpson, with the third planned for Fort Liard in September. The Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority is seeking to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems. - NNSL file photo

It could be something as simple as anxiety or as complicated as a serious mental illness.

The Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority has collaborated with the Mental Health Commission of Canada to offer regular mental health first aid courses to interested community members.

Courses recently wrapped up in Fort Providence and Fort Simpson, with a third scheduled for Fort Liard from Sept. 22 to 24.

Address the needs of Northerners

Naomi Ballantyne, a mental health and addictions counsellor with the authority based out of Fort Providence, is co-facilitating the course, which is tailored to address the needs of Northern residents. With the latest course in Fort Simpson, she said 16 people came out, while the course in Fort Providence brought out 24 community members.

"Mental health first aid itself isn't a new thing, but the Northern Peoples course - which is a unique addition - is only a year or two old," she said. "It covers the uniqueness of Northern life and Northern peoples and it also addresses challenges specific to the North."

In addition to discussions about isolation and seasonal affective disorder, the course educates about residential school history and the sled dog slaughter.

In its most basic form, mental health first aid is the help provided to a person developing a problem or experiencing a crisis.

Ballantyne said it can be thought of in the same vein as a physical ailment, where physical first aid is offered - except in this case, the aid targets mental aspects.

"In a mental health crisis, a lot of people feel like they don't know how to respond. They feel shocked or uncomfortable or unsure, just because mental health problems aren't as talked about as a broken arm," she said. "Giving people the tools and information can be very empowering and they can then pass it on to a friend or family member who is struggling."

One of the goals of the course is to normalize mental health and address the stigma associated with mental health problems. Ballantyne said the biggest contributors to reducing the stigma are information, education and awareness.

The three-day course spans 18 hours and covers substance abuse, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders and deliberate self-injury. Participants are also taught crisis first aid for overdoses, suicidal behaviour, panic attacks, psychotic episodes and acute stress reaction - more commonly referred to as shock.

It is open to anyone, but Ballantyne said it is especially important for people who work with the general public.

"The program definitely does not teach people to be counsellors or therapists, but it does teach people to recognize the signs and symptoms of all of those topics and how to provide initial help and encourage that person toward professional help," she said. "In the North here, where there are not as many professionals in communities and professional help is not always on-hand, that's the perfect time when members of the public can be informed and offer immediate aid before people can get professional help."

e-mental health counselling

Fort Simpson, Fort Providence and Fort Liard all have community counselling programs which also provide support to satellite communities.

Additionally, there is a 24-hour territorial help line.

At the territorial level, Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Umesh Sutendra said the department will be pursuing two new services, including "e-mental health e-counselling" and Internet-based after-care for clients returning from addiction treatment.

Those projects are expected to begin in the fall and a follow-up survey will be conducted to see if it met the needs of clients.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.