Updated January 2023
Do you work in a public-serving role? Are you in health care, education, social services, law enforcement, or some other community-serving profession? There is no doubt that you are coming into regular contact with people who suffer from poor mental health.
The Canadian Mental Health Association says one in five Canadians will face a mental health issue in any given year. This is a widespread problem that impacts people of all ages, education, cultural backgrounds, and income levels.
Mental health training is an absolutely crucial first step to reversing this situation.
Whether you're embarking on a career in mental health—or simply want to improve your ability to support people who are suffering—targeted training is the key.
These are five fundamental mental health skills every front-line, community-serving professional needs.
1. Knowing your own biases toward mental illness
We wouldn't be in the midst of a mental health crisis if we weren't buying into some poisonous myths about what poor mental health actually is. There are so many misconceptions out there.
Some of the most dangerous ideas about mental illness include blaming the sufferer. For example, there's a common assumption that people with anxiety or depression are simply weak, or lack the willpower to improve their frame of mind.
Another common myth is that people with mental illness are dangerous and violent, or that they can't hold down a job or contribute to society in any meaningful way.
Many of us—even well-educated people—are buying into some version of these myths. And it influences the way we talk and feel about mental illness and react to people who are suffering.
Knowing how to identify, unpack, and dispel your own biases toward mental illness is step number one to building understanding, empathy, and compassion. These are basic prerequisites to progress in this field.
Related: 5 Most Toxic Mental Health Myths
2. Knowing the features & symptoms of common mental health disorders
Depression is among the most common mental health disorders. Approximately 25 per cent of Canadians have a degree of depression serious enough to need treatment.
But did you know there are several kinds of depression? Or that depression falls into a broader category called mood disorders?
Mood disorders include:
☑️ Major depression
☑️ Bipolar I disorder
☑️ Bipolar II disorder
☑️ Seasonal affective disorder
☑️ Cyclothymic disorders
Each of these disorders has its own characteristics, symptoms, and treatments. And there are other very common mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders.
Around 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders—it's the most common mental health issue in the country, and affects roughly 19% of the population every year.
Quality mental health training includes a solid overview of these and other common mental illnesses. You'll learn how to spot warning signs and better engage with people who are suffering.
3. Recognizing The link between mental illness and addiction
When someone is suffering from a mental illness and a substance abuse problem, they have what's known as a concurrent disorder.
Concurrent disorders are incredibly common. In 2012, the Canadian government conducted a community mental health survey and found that roughly 282,000 adults were suffering from concurrent disorders.
For example, people with mood and anxiety disorders are prone to self-medicate with alcohol and illicit substances—like opioids.
But it's also common to see addiction combined with other mental illnesses, including personality disorders and eating disorders.
Mental health training helps students understand the complexities of concurrent disorders and how to recognize signs of struggle. For example:
☑️ Substance abuse often causes patients to forget to take their prescribed medications.
☑️ Substance abuse can trigger worsening symptoms of a mental illness, such as depression.
☑️ Addiction can mirror or even hide symptoms of a mental health problem, making diagnosis very challenging.
Usually, health care providers will try to treat the mental illness and addiction at the same time. However, if the patient's life is at risk due to a mental health issue, the medical team will address that problem first and then deal with the addiction once the patient is stable.
Concurrent disorders are complicated and difficult to treat. But for front-line workers, simply understanding which mental health issues often combine with addiction is very helpful in early detection and intervention.
4. How to respond to a mental health emergency
What's the best way to approach someone who's having a panic attack? How should you handle a person who is seriously considering or about to attempt suicide?
If you work in a community-serving role, having a good set of mental health first aid skills can literally save lives.
It takes targeted training to learn the optimal way to approach someone in crisis. You'll learn how to de-escalate destructive behaviour and approach someone experiencing high levels of anxiety. You'll also learn when a formal mental health intervention is needed.
Having a toolkit of early detection and emergency response skills is a major asset for people who work in the community.
5. Familiarity with community mental health resources
What mental health services should you know about in your own community? Where can you go for help, information, and support? Where can you refer people in need?
It's incredibly important to familiarize yourself with local resources for mental health training and treatment. Whether it's to continue educating yourself or get help for someone else, knowing where to go is empowering and potentially life-saving.
Far too many people never seek out treatment for mental illness because they don't know who to turn to and they're ashamed to ask for help.
For example, depression is perhaps the most treatable mental illness. And yet, in a given year, only half of all Americans diagnosed with depression will seek treatment.
Being afraid to speak up and having no idea where to turn for help are major barriers to recovery. Community-serving professionals can play a major role in reversing this trend.
Being aware of local resources and drawing on the other skills mentioned here can make you a powerful advocate for people who are suffering in your own community.
With quality mental health training, front-line workers can make a huge difference in how we connect with and serve those in need.
Learn more about mental health training
Explore the Mental Health & Addictions certificate offered by Kompass Professional Development.
This course is delivered online and can be completed in three to six months. It's taught by Rose Ceci, a certified psychiatric mental health nurse with the Canadian Mental Health Association. She has over 18 years of experience in the field.
Click the button below to browse the program and chat live with an advisor. We're here to help!