tri201209272253582-jpgBy Sarah Payne – The Tri-City News
Published: September 27, 2012 10:00 AM

Mental health problems will affect one in three Canadians — it could be you, a family member, friend or co-worker.

But would you know what to do in the event of a mental health crisis?

“The lack of knowledge creates a sense of fear and stigma,” said Donna Bonertz, an employment specialist with Port Coquitlam’s New View Society. “Many people are unsure of what to do and how to help.”

A workshop being hosted Oct. 11 and 12 by New View, called Mental Health First Aid, aims to teach people the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, how to provide initial assistance, and strategies to guide the person towards professional help.

The program is based on the same principles as a standard first aid course, Bonertz said, so participants will be learning practical, hands-on skills to help tackle a mental health crisis. The program won’t train you to be a professional therapist but it will arm you with the things you need to do until professional help can be arranged, much like treating a wound until an ambulance arrives.

“Early intervention is key,” Bonertz said. “The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.”

Mental health problems covered in the course include substance abuse, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and psychotic disorders.

Have a persistently irritable co-worker or boss? It may be a mood disorder that’s gone unnoticed.

“As an employment specialist, mental health in the workplace is a big deal,” Bonertz said. Some 20% of all stress leaves can be attributed to an anxiety disorder, she added, noting a co-worker struggling with mental health problems means lost time, productivity and added stress for fellow employees.

Crisis situations covered in the workshop include suicidal behaviour, overdoses, panic attacks, reactions to traumatic events and psychotic episodes.

That can mean knowing what to do when there’s an imminent risk, like when somebody mentions suicidal thoughts.

“There’s this myth that if someone’s talking about it they’re not that serious about it,” Bonertz said. “But that’s not true. If they’re talking about it, it’s an issue. One of the most difficult questions you might have to ask somebody is, ‘Are you thinking of killing yourself?'”

A difficult question indeed, but one that can be handled correctly with the proper training, Bonertz added.

The course is designed for people with little to no knowledge of mental health issues, and would be a beneficial tool for employers, human resource professionals, community groups and teachers (a mental health first aid course for adults who interact with youth is also available).

Helen Uyi-Osagie, a community living support worker with New View, took the course in the spring and said it has helped her already.

“It gives me a plan to deal with different crisis situations that might come my way,” she said. “Before the course, I wouldn’t have known step-by-step what to do.”

• New View’s two-day Mental Health First Aid workshop runs New View Society Building, (2050 Mary Hill Rd., PoCo). Cost is $175 per person; contact Donna at 604-941-3222 Ext. 110 or to register. Visit for more information.