Why I am glad I took Mental Health First Aid

Authored by Elaine Froese

Recently I was saddened by the passing of 3 folks in the space of one week with whom I had a connection with. I suspect many of you are grieving losses experienced in the past 22 months during this Great Pause. I want you to explore some new learning and consider signing up for the virtual Mental Health First Aid course. It’s easy to do, costs less than $150, and will give you more confidence to have supportive conversations with your family, friends, and the neighbour down the road who needs a listening ear.

Many long-time readers of this column will recall that I am a post-partum depression survivor who spent a good chunk of 1984 in a psychiatric ward healing after 23 ECT treatments as I was drug resistant to therapy. I also have walked the mental health journey with many family members and friends over the past 37 years, yet I knew I needed a solid framework in 2021 to be supportive and courageous.

My instructor was Ashley Breland, a social worker from the University of Saskatchewan who is working on her MSW. Her energy, enthusiasm, and honest vulnerability of her own mental wellness journey gave all of us on the zoom training the permission to share parts of our own heavy stories briefly in our breakout groups. We learned to confirm the skills of approaching conversations, listening without judgment, and being careful to use the language of empathy, not sympathy.

A farm family coach hears many heavy stories as families approach me for ways to get traction on their transition planning and have smoother conversations. If you are a supportive person who gives and gives, you may be entering 2022 in a depleted state. Breland’s training also emphasized the need for self-care when you are nurturing, and being a supportive listener to people who are struggling with mental health storms (everyday life), or the more complicated mental health disorders.

All of us go through storms, and 2021 was a doozy for weather stress, drought, price rallies, contract obligations, lockdowns, social isolation and many more. I would like you to consider investing 2 hours of your precious time in the pre-work for mental health first aid where you will learn the helpful language of reaching out to listen to others who have their own storms. Then you get to spend 6 hours in a day training with breaks to have insights into the difference between conversations that bring folks to making their own choices for further mental health care, and the conversations that stigmatize and are not helpful.

If you are full of heavy stories of folks around you managing depression, grieving a death by suicide, covid, or other losses, you really would benefit from training in mental health first aid. It is not your job to diagnose, it is your role to be a supportive listener, re-frame what the struggling person is saying, validate their feelings, and help them create options for their next steps. The course uses the acronym ALGEE as a reminder of the framework for powerful conversations and self-care. You’ll have to take the course to learn more!

Many first-aid folks are also managing anxiety, yet they have meaningful purposeful jobs and are willing to continue to support others in getting tools and resources to have a better mental health journey.

I own a full spectrum light which was purchased years ago for $200 from the Manitoba Mood disorder Association. (Google SAD lights or Happy lights ) .I turn it on in the morning on my desk to create brightness in the darkness of fall and winter. It also comes in handy for zoom calls to light my face, as part of my mini studio for virtual learning.

I journal and have committed to do this as a daily practice for better self-care because of my training in mental health first aid. For many folks, writing down thoughts, feelings, and experiences helps them process what is going on in their brains.

I unplug from my cell phone on Sundays and sometimes Saturdays. Getting off social media can be a brain stress reducer. Comparison can also be a joy stealer, so avoid your Instagram account and fast from it for a few days. See how you are feeling when you don’t compare your current life to everyone you scroll online.

Cynthia Beck is a suicide intervention specialist who also farms south of Regina. She has given me permission to send folks her way who are dealing with suicide issues, and you might want to reach out to her if this is part of your story. Her number is 306-436-7354. Her email is shineon@cynthiabeck.ca.

Grainews featured a story on Beck on March 2, 2021.

Intervening early in the mental health journey can create better outcomes, so having the skills to listen well, approach properly, knows local resources, and reach out to help create solutions for the person struggling can be a real gamechanger in our rural communities. Many of you know CPR and first aid to stop bleeding. Take this Mental Health First Aid training to really make a difference to your family, friends, and neighbours. Fifty percent of people will develop mental illness in their lifetime, and ALL of us have mental health storms in the journey of life.

I am curious if I have convinced you yet to sign up. I would like you to go to https://www.mhfa.ca/en/course and see which instructor appeals to you.

Let 2022 be the year you are compassionate, kind, and curious about the mental wellness of everyone you walk alongside. Know how to start conversations with “How are you really doing?” We are all human beings, and it is okay to ask others if they are okay. When we feel grounded and can handle things we are blessed with mental well-being. Use your well-being to be a safe person to listen to other farmers and families who are in storms, and possibly need a way to navigate heavier stories of a mental health disorder. You don’t diagnose, you listen and provide first-aid to get the person to the next step of professional help. You can do this.

Tell me you have signed up, and I will send you an e-copy of one of my 5 books, your choice. I am so glad I invested time in this course. I have more tools in my box to have meaningful and helpful conversations with farm families who have heavy stories. Join me.

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Elaine Froese is a professional speaker and certified coach. Sign up for her insights delivered to your inbox twice per month. Invite Elaine to speak to your aggroup in 2022, virtually or in person. Let’s all walk the road of mental wellness together.

Did you enjoy Why I am glad I took Mental Health First Aid? You might want to check these articles out too:

Living the life you love as an aging farmer How to talk to your Boomer Dad and Mom It’s okay to ask for help

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