Written by Justin Sage-Passant

“Just as physical first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, Mental Health First Aid is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved.”

Mental health struggles often begin between the ages of 14 and 25: half of all mental disorders begin by age 14, and 75% by age 24. The earlier a problem is detected and treated, the better the outcome and Mental Health First Aid can give people the skills to provide that early help.

In January, I was trained to deliver the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Mental Health First Aid program. Mental Health First Aid is the help provided to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. Just as physical first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, Mental Health First Aid is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved.

The program does not teach people how to be therapists. It does teach people how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help, and guide a person towards appropriate professional help. Mental Health First Aid aims to:

  • Preserve life where a person may be a danger to themselves or others.
  • Provide help to prevent the mental health problem from developing into a more serious state.
  • Promote the recovery of good mental health.
  • Provide comfort to a person experiencing a mental health problem.

Since January, I have delivered the training to some of my colleagues at Eva’s, Toronto Public Library staff, and staff at Kennedy House Youth Shelter. In 2017, I hope to deliver the training to more Eva’s team members. It’s so important because there is an over representation of young people living with mental health problems within the homeless population. In the general population, one in three Canadians will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life. However, for youth aged 16 to 24 experiencing homelessness, research indicates that 40% are affected by mental health concerns and 70% are affected by mental health concerns after experiencing homelessness for more than four years.

In delivering this training, I’ve found participants always have stories to tell of their own mental health experiences or of their experiences with friends, family members, and clients. For me, the sharing of real life experiences brings the training to life and most importantly reminds us that mental health problems do not discriminate. They can affect anyone, and any of us could find ourselves in a situation where we are called upon to provide support and assistance.

About the Author

Justin Sage-Passant is a Family Intervention Counselor with Eva's Family Reconnect Program.

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