Unlike professional members of the caring community, a Mental Health First Aider can be anyone committed to making life a little easier and a little more accepting for people going through dark days.

“Mental Health First Aid was created in 2001 by Betty Kitchener, a nurse specializing in health education, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor. Kitchener and Jorm run Mental Health First Aid Australia, a national non-profit health promotion charity focused on training and research.” Today, serving across the globe, MHFA’s goal is simple – it “takes the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problem”

Trainees include teachers and first responders, advocates community members – even Former First Lady Michell Obama. It’s a 2.5 million strong group that now includes the Cancer Hope Network Staff.

The CHN staff, along with professionals from several other cancer support organizations across the nation did lots of homework and pre-tests, then gathered virtually for an instructor-led training one sunny Saturday.

We learned about ALGEE, a step by step action plan for folks in distressing situations, much like first aid’s ABC action plan for people needing CPR. We discussed patient-first language (“my patient is bi-polar”, not “my bi-polar patient.”) as part of maintaining an atmosphere of dignity and respect. We also heard great insights from participants (first names used for privacy).

“When it’s happening to you, it often feels like it’s happening ONLY to you,” ~Gail

“Sometimes, that best voice to give is the voice of silence.” ~Anthony

We were encouraged to listen with a blank canvas – letting the speaker paint with their words, listening non-judgmentally.

The day touched difficult topics – suicidal ideation (Sometimes, people downplay what they’re going through – and sometimes we downplay what we’re seeing.), traumatic events (Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Unless you’re in construction, can’t promise someone a new home.), along with the importance of self-care for MHFA’ers being trained.

It was a challenging, thought-provoking day of learning and empowerment. “We were thrilled to bring access to this critical knowledge to caring professionals,” said Samantha Schrager, CHN’s Director of Programs, who organized the session. “A cancer diagnosis or treatment can be traumatic for the patients and caregivers we serve. Being trained as MHFA professionals will help each of us better assist our clients.”

Interested in receiving MHFA training? Contact CHN Director of Programs Samantha Schrager (sschrager(at)cancerhopenetwork.org) to learn about CHN-coordinated sessions or visit mentalhealthfirstaid.org.