by Siobhan McNamara for DonegalNow
Ireland North and West MEP Jim Higgins is calling on the government to introduce mental health first aid classes. This follows the successful implementation of a programme of classes in Wales.
“In Ireland, thankfully, people are more aware of the importance of positive mental health, but there’s still reluctance, among men in particular, to break the taboo of talking about feelings and speak up if they are experiencing depression,” said Mr Higgins.
“The only way to change that is to get the nation talking about positive mental health through a country-wide campaign to educate everyone from teens up to frontline professionals.”
The Welsh Assembly Government’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) schemes are open to the public. Workers such as teachers, local authority staff and others working with young people are particularly encouraged to take part. These are 6 or 12 hour courses run by experts who help participants understand positive mental health. They learn how to promote positive mental health while recognising symptoms of mental distress and crucially, learning how to help someone in distress.
Mr Higgins said: “While GPs and psychologists are trained in recognising the symptoms of depression and can assist people, members of the public, co-workers, friends and family could be more likely to notice the signs, if trained to do so, during daily interactions with an individual.
“If members of the public were trained to recognise and respond to signs of mental distress in a responsible, helpful way as many do with medical First Aid, we could help people in need and potentially save someone’s life or encourage them to seek help, so hopefully we can greatly reduce the number of tragic deaths by suicide in Ireland.”
Mr Higgins believes Irish people would be genuinely interested in taking part in the courses in the way that many people take part in First Aid courses. The MEP is bringing his proposal to the attention of Minister for Health Dr James Reilly and the Department of Health.