Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Cross-border drive to treat mental illnesses

A cross-border initiative to help people recognise the symptoms of mental health problems among 16 to 25-year-olds and treat them with 'first aid' was launched in Armagh today.

Experts were this morning to converge on a conference to launch the findings of a pilot project, called Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).

It has been designed to help address the mental health problems of young people in the border counties.

Health Promotion Agency (HPA) chief executive Dr Brian Gaffney explained how to help someone with mental illness.

"Many of us are aware of what to do when someone needs first aid for a physical health problem such as a heart attack or a broken leg.

"But there is a general lack of knowledge on how to recognise or assist someone showing signs of a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety or psychosis - even though as many as one in four of us experience mental health problems during our lifetime," he said.

The initiative is a cross-border collaboration - between the HPA, Co-operation and Working Together (CAWT) and Aware Defeat Depression.

It focuses on how to recognise the symptoms of a mental health problem, provide initial help.

It also gives guidance on seeking the appropriate professional help.

Dr Gaffney said an evaluation of the findings was "extremely positive" .

"Given that the programme meets several of the actions outlined in the mental health and suicide prevention strategies, we hope that this evaluation will help establish the future potential of MHFA on an all-island basis," he added.

MHFA, a 12-hour training programme, was originally developed in Australia.

It was also adopted for the Scottish Executive's national programme for improving mental health and wellbeing.

Speakers at today's conference at Armagh City Hotel include members of Australian and Scottish MHFA programmes.

The cross-border initiative involved the training of 15 instructors.

They worked in pairs to deliver a programme to 234 participants from health, education, youth work, family support services, supported accommodation and voluntary organisations.

According to today's result, 89% of those said the training enabled them to provide more support to a person than they would have been able to provide prior to training.

A total of 79% had encountered someone experiencing a mental health problem since the training and 98% of these participants offered MHFA.

Nearly everyone (a total of 99%) said MHFA enabled them to provide support on a personal basis to friends and family.

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