By Jim Timlick
Throughout its history, Epic Opportunities has focused on providing employees with the tools they need to provide holistic, person-centred support to people living with an intellectual disability.
Beginning in the new year, the agency will begin providing employees with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. Human Resource Director Kristin Knockaert and Coordinator Kristen Woloszyn-Chin, who recently completed an intense five-day instructor certification course offered through the Mental Health Commission of Canada, will provide the training.
Mental Health First Aid – Basic is a 12-hour training course that equips participants with tools to help others get support or resources using five basic actions.
While the course covers basic information about several mental health related problems, it doesn’t teach people to be therapists. Instead, it educates them about what actions to take in the event of a mental health crisis and how early intervention can help reduce the trauma and stigma that can result from such a crisis.
“The main aim of the program is to build community understanding of what mental health issues and problems are, how to help and provide support to people who are experiencing mental health issues and problems and to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues in our community,” Knockaert says.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, it’s estimated that one in five Canadians experience some type of mental health problem in any given year.
Knockaert says based on those numbers it only makes sense that Epic Opportunities provide employees with the knowledge they need to make an informed decision in the event they or someone they know experiences a mental health problem or crisis.
“If one in five Canadians are affected…we can assume that in any given year a number of our employees and people we serve are going to go through a mental health problem or know someone who is,” she adds.
Until now, Epic Opportunities employees would have had to receive this training outside the organization. With the support of a Canada-Manitoba Job Grant provided by the federal and provincial governments, Knockaert and Woloszyn-Chin were able to become certified instructors and can now deliver the training in-house.
Woloszyn-Chin was eager to lend her support to the initiative. She has lived with mental health issues herself, including anxiety, and says its important to let others who may be dealing with their own problems know they aren’t alone and there’s no shame in talking about it.
“I feel it will benefit everybody,” she says. “Being open and talking about mental health is so important. I want people to talk about it the same way they would any medical condition.”
Although Epic Opportunities will begin offering the Mental Health First Aid training exclusively to Epic Opportunities staff first, Knockaert says it could eventually offer it to families it serves as well as employees of other community living agencies who don’t have the resources to offer it themselves.
Knockaert adds that the Mental Health First Aid training is another example of Epic Opportunities’ commitment to addressing holistic wellbeing as part of the body, mind and spirit approach that is part of the organization’s five-year strategic plan. She emphasizes that mental health training will be an ongoing focus as Epic Opportunities moves forward.
“It won’t stop when the current strategic plan is done. It can’t stop.”