Chris Van Es

Mental Health for All

Mental-health first-aid courses have been expanding rapidly in recent years. But much more progress is needed to ensure that those afflicted by mental-health problems receive the acceptance and support that they need to cope with – and recover from – the challenges that they face.

MELBOURNE – One spring evening in 1997, when I was a mental-health researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, I was discussing with my wife, Betty Kitchener, a registered nurse who taught first-aid courses for the Red Cross in her spare time, the inadequacy of conventional first-aid training. Such courses typically neglect mental-health emergencies, leaving participants poorly equipped to help people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, the effects of alcohol or drug abuse, or a diminishing grip on reality.

Betty knew firsthand the potential consequences of this lack of knowledge. When she was 15, she experienced an episode of severe depression, which culminated in a suicide attempt. But her family and teachers failed to recognize the problem, so she received no support or professional help. This lack of early treatment undermined her recovery, and she has continued to experience episodes of depression throughout her life.

In order to help ensure that more people did not have to suffer alone as Betty had, we resolved to create a mental-health first-aid training course in our local community. Three years later, when Betty reduced her paid employment in order to develop Mental Health First Aid training, we were finally able to launch the course.

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