Hearing & Listening: Mental Health First Aid

Hearing & Listening: Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid for Adults who Interact with Youth

From Saturday, March 18 to Sunday, March 19, 2017, I attended the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) for Adults who Interact with Youth program. The venue was in Nipissing University and it took two full days to complete it. I had heard about the program from the Record of Student Development (RSD) website, and Student Counselling Services. I attended the program because I wanted to learn more about how to talk to individuals who were developing a mental illness or are experiencing a mental health crisis.

On the first day, our instructor, Sarah Cantin, asked us to introduce ourselves to the group. She also gave each of us a copy of the MHFA for Adults who Interact with Youth book. We covered topics such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, psychosis, and more. For each topic, we analyzed a specific piece of artwork. Some were abstract, and some were straightforward. It was interesting to listen to everyone’s interpretation of the piece. After our input, Sarah read to us the artist’s description of the work. The art pieces and their relation to each mental illness was one of the things that I liked about how the program was instructed.

Throughout the two days, there were plenty of activities that kept us active and engaged. It also helped us to remember important information such as the acronym ‘ALGEE.’  I wanted to talk about the activities that we participated in:

  • Phobias – One of the activities we engaged in was for the phobia section of the course. Sarah placed slips of green paper around the room. The green paper had a phobia written on it. Beside this was a blank piece of paper in which we wrote down our guesses. Some of the guesses were quite funny and bizarre.
  • Communicator and receiver – Another activity emphasized the importance of truly listening to people we communicate with. The group broke off into partners. One person was the communicator and the other was the receiver, or the listener. Our backs faced each other throughout the activity. The communicator was given a piece of paper that had a drawing on it. The communicator was then asked to describe the image, but here’s the catch: The communicator was not allowed to say the actual object’s name (i.e., table, chair, hat) or call out the shapes that were in the image (i.e., circle, square, triangle). So, the communicator had to be really creative with how they were going to present and communicate the image. Meanwhile, the receiver was asked to remain quiet. They were not allowed to give any indications of whether or not they understood the communicator’s instructions.
  • Case Study –Sarah gave us all a case study scenario and we had to partner up with somebody to act out the scene. We role played multiple scenes that were intended for certain topics in the course. One person would be an individual with a mental illness, while the other person provided mental health first aid. This activity was quite challenging for me. There is a difference between talking and listening to your friend and talking and listening to somebody you might not know and are providing mental health first aid to. When talking to a friend, I find myself guilty for interrupting them because I might have experienced a similar event that they were talking about, or I interrupt them because I want to give them my opinion on something. However, when providing mental health first aid to somebody, you have to listen attentively with no judgment, reassure them, and provide them with information regarding appropriate professional help.

Overall, the Mental Health First Aid for Adults who Interact with Youth workshop taught me many lessons. The lesson that was the most important to me is that listening is not an easy thing to do. It isn’t easy to give people our full attention because our mind begins to wander to other topics. This is what usually happens to me, which is partially the reason for when I interrupt others when they are speaking. So, I want to become a better listener and interrupt less when I am having a conversation with somebody. There is a difference between hearing what a person is saying and listening to what a person is saying.

I recommend this workshop to everyone. Thank you, Sarah Cantin, for being a wonderful instructor!

Mikee Layaoen is a fourth year student in the Psychology program minoring in Human Resources.





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