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Council embraces positive approach with mental health first aid training

9 August 2019

Southern Downs Regional Council has embraced a positive approach to mental health first aid and has implemented a Mental Health Resilience Program with funding from Queensland Health.

Council secured Tackling Regional Adversity through Integrated Care (TRAIC) funding which aims to target suicide prevention, build resilience and foster recovery among people and communities affected by adversity such as drought, natural disasters or other community crises. 

Through the program, two Council staff completed training as Accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructors and have since conducted internal workshops to train Council staff as Mental Health First Aid Responders.

The workshops facilitated by the accredited Council instructors are also available to local business and industry, and Council recently conducted an external workshop for local SES services.

Councillor for Health, Cultural Diversity and Learning Neil Meiklejohn said up-skilling staff to support and assist members of the community experiencing mental health issues during the current drought climate was a proactive and supportive Council initiative.  

“Council front line staff are often the first point of contact for people seeking drought assistance who may also be experiencing mental health issues as a result of drought hardship and stress,” said Cr Meiklejohn.

“It can be difficult to know how to help someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis or developing a mental illness, and many people lack the confidence or skills to help.

“Through the Mental Health Resilience Program, the workshops can equip everyday people with training to identify, understand, and respond to signs of ill mental health.

“Physical first aid is accepted and widespread in our community, however most training courses do not cover mental health problems. Like physical first aid, mental health first aid is given until the person receives professional help or until the crisis resolves.

“Our goal in delivering this training is to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, improve mental health literacy and spark quality conversations that improve help-seeking behaviour and resilience.

“Through the delivery of the program, we have already seen an increase in voluntary and informal mental wellness conversations as people share stories and lived experience, and through this, improved understanding and compassion for others. 

“This program aims to change our perspective on mental health issues to the same focus, understanding and compassion given to those with a physical injury or disability – it’s about providing reassurance and hope.”

Manager for Community and Cultural Services, Michael Bell said that the training identifies the signs and symptoms of mental health, and provides simple tools on how to assist someone experiencing a mental health problem, including how the trained responder can look after themselves throughout the support process.

SES and RFS volunteer and Wisteria Cottage and Heavenly Chocolate owner, Natasha Bamberry recently attended the mental health first aid SES workshop, and said what she learnt also applied to situations she faced as a business owner.

“I found the course extremely educational. I attended the SES workshop and quickly realised that what I learnt about dealing with people in crisis as an SES volunteer also applied to being a business owner and interacting with customers,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s easy to think that someone is having a bad couple of days rather than identifying  that it’s part of something bigger that needs addressing.

“But the mental health first aid workshop showed me how to identify the signs of someone possibly developing a mental health illness, and how I can help the person who might be too afraid or ashamed to ask for that help themselves.

“The course opened my eyes up to the other mental health illnesses that aren't talked about as much as some which are slowly damaging our community.”

Council is currently in discussion with several community groups and private organisations about future workshops.

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