Mental health first aid courses begin in Wollongong to help Illawarra youth

Important workshop: Diane Heinlein and Erika Day preparing for the Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) course they are running at Thirroul this month. Pic: Greg Ellis.
Important workshop: Diane Heinlein and Erika Day preparing for the Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) course they are running at Thirroul this month. Pic: Greg Ellis.

Diane Heinlein and Erika Day are organising a Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) course this month. The course at Thirroul Library is targeted at parents and teachers but they would also like to run a 3.5 hour Teen Mental Awareness course for students in high schools.

The YMHFA Course runs over two days on August 26 and 27 to teach adults how to provide mental health first aid to youth. With mental health often starting in adolescence or early adulthood Ms Heinlein, of Living Beyond Boundaries, said it was important to detect problems early to ensure young people are properly treated and supported.

“Many adults when dealing with a young person with a mental health crisis are really not sure what to do and with the rate of youth suicide so high, this course is really beneficial,” she said.

The YMHFA course is targeting adults who have frequent contact with young people aged between 10 and 20. It is suitable for parents, guardians, school staff, sport coaches and youth workers. It shows them how to assist those who are developing a mental health problem to those in a mental health crisis. The training is based on international MHFA guidelines developed using a consensus or mental health consumers, carers and professionally.

Ms Day is a psychologist and accredited MHFA master instructor trained in how to learn the signs and symptoms of mental health problems as well as how and where to get the most effective according to the latest research.

Ms Heinlein has worked with families going through difficult times and knows the importance of parents identifying the signs early.

“Parents are coming to me a lot with children who are having mental health issues and they don’t know how to deal with them. Even in businesses a lot of people come across it and they don’t know what to do, how to respond or what to say. So my sister and I got together and decided to do this.”

Mr Heinlein said with mental health people are reluctant to speak about it. It is not that they don’t want to know about it or do something about it. It is just that they don’t know what to do or who to speak to. “So by coming along to this they can get some more skills and learn how to recognise it. The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is trying to have it so every business has someone who is not only trained in first aid but also mental health first aid.”

Ms Day, of Erika Day Psychology, said it was an important area to learn more about because 20 per cent of the general population will experience a mental health disorder in any given year.

“But in youth it is 25 per cent. A majority of mental health issues that people will develop will first appear in adolescence or early adulthood,” she said.

“50 per cent of people who will develop a mental health issue will develop it by the time they are 18. And many young people don’t have an understanding or and awareness of even what is happening to them”.

Ms Day said “so much was happening in adolescence having this happen on top actually shuts down their communication and their ability to reach out.” 

She said people don’t know where to go which was why courses for the age group concerned, as well as for adults they come in contact with, were so important.

“Mental health first aid has been found to be effective. And that is why it is now a national program and an international program,” she said.

“It has been effective in educating people and reducing stigma. People just don’t know what to do so this mental health first aid gives steps called ALGEE. It is an acronym that makes it easy to remember how to asses, how to approach, how to listen non-judgmentally and how to communicate non-judgmentally. It helps people not to be panicking themselves when their trying to help someone in a crisis so they can be more effective in providing support.”