In Manitoba, employees of the RCMP are being trained in a different kind of first aid — a first aid for mental health.
With one in three people experiencing a mental health problem at some point in their life, no one is immune to its effects. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a two-day course offered through the Mental Health Commission of Canada that aims to give people some basic skills to help not only their coworkers, but also friends and family, cope with a mental health problem.
Just like physical first aid doesn't try to make doctors out of people, MHFA doesn't try to teach people to be therapists. It teaches participants how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help and steer the person towards the appropriate professional help if needed.
When Sgt. Rod Downey was approached about teaching the MHFA course in 2012, he happily accepted the challenge. Since becoming an instructor, he has taught the course across Manitoba, with more sessions scheduled for 2014.
"This wasn't just a chance to teach a course, this was an opportunity to help be part of a solution," says Downey. "After more than 20 years in the RCMP, I had seen far too many people, not just front-line constables, be ravaged by a dark part of our culture where 'we eat our own.' This course was a way to help reduce stigma and promote the idea that recovery is possible."
From the outset, it was established that every employee should have an opportunity to take the course.
"Making the course available to everyone acknowledges we're all in this together," says Downey. "In our various work environments, we experience joy, stress, triumph and tragedy collectively and there's no simple way to separate the managers, regular members, civilian members and public servants."
It's a sentiment that Cecile Lafreniere, a return-to-work facilitator for the RCMP in Manitoba, agrees with. She took the course in March and says it was excellent.
"Mental health is a very sensitive issue," says Lafreniere. "We need to be more compassionate and less judgmental, people need to be more aware. The more educated we are, the better it is for everyone because there are times when we all need support."