NAIT is celebrating a milestone for a program that focuses on mental well-being, with a renewed conviction in expanding the program further on campus. Over 300 staff members and students have been trained so far in NAIT’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program, including instructors, peace officers, food service workers and advisers. Launched in June 2014, the program offers basic training in recognizing the signs of common mental health problems and helping those in distress.
Training is provided by 16 staff members in house, all accredited by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. NAIT plans to expand the training to an additional 200 staff and students in the 2015-2016 academic year, in which participants learn to:
● Recognize and understand symptoms of mental health problems
● Get the person experiencing distress out of danger
● Provide support and refer the individual to the proper support
Participants take a two-day intensive course geared towards assisting individuals in finding the appropriate professional help. “Seventy five per cent of mental health problems begin by the age of
24,” says Margaret Marean, associate chair of NAIT Counselling Services. “Early intervention is one of the most effective things we can do in promoting a positive outcome for an individual experiencing mental health problems.”
In expanding the MHFA program, NAITSA has secured funding for up to 80 students to receive training alongside NAIT staff. “This is an exciting initiative because often peers will notice
changes in behavior and attitude sooner than a staff person will,” said Marean. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Stress is one of the factors which affects an individual’s well-being and, as students, stress can be an ever-present companion during the academic year.
Last year, the NAIT Student Counsel- ling office saw a 20 per cent increase in students attending counselling sessions. There was also a 35 per cent increase in students diagnosed with a mental
illness. With an increasing demand for services, the expansion of the MFHA program builds an additional layer of support for students.
“The demand for our services has definitely increased, and in particular, appointments with students who have significant mental health concerns,” said Marean.
“These are often related to high stress and anxiety. There has been a similar trend at post-secondary campuses across North America.”
Benefit already seen
The benefit of the program has already been recognized across campus. Front line staff are instrumental in identifying stu- dents in need and this training provides the preparation staff
need. Brad Zawadiuk, manager of NAIT Retail and Ancillary Services, says his department “has some of the highest contact with the NAIT community on a daily basis … whether in our Food Services locations or shop at NAIT outlets,” he said. “Our goal is to have someone at every site our department operates trained in Mental Health First Aid.” Students interested in participating in the program can contact the NAITSA office for more information. “The course provides an excellent life skill and it doesn’t hurt that it will look great on a resume,” Margaret Marean.