Mental Health First Aid course built for veterans, supporters

At this time of year, thoughts often turn to our veterans as we remember those who served and sacrificed at home and abroad.

They do a tough job, and sometimes the price of duty is injuries that follow them back into civilian life, both physical and mental. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), also known as operational stress injury, has become better recognized with some supports already in place. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) — a course supported by Veteran Affairs Canada — is being offered locally at no cost to participants. This program is designed for veterans and those around them — family, friends, supporters, health professionals, and caring community members.

Ryan Mitchell, a Markham resident and member of the Markham and District Veteran’s Association (MDVA), has been front and centre in the push for such supports and is a point person for MHFA locally. With 18 years of service, including tours of duty in Bosnia, Croatia and several domestic tours under his belt, Mitchell had to confront the hard reality that he was physically too damaged to continue and was medically discharged in 2013. But he also discovered as he found his way back to civilian life that he carried emotional damage too and was diagnosed with PTSD.

But while his recovery continued, a new recognition hit home with him as it has for many in his place, that the burden of recovery lies not just on their shoulders but those around them too and scant attention has traditionally been paid to those very important people in the lives of vets who are often the core of their support network. This is why Mitchell has chosen to become a public promoter of the program offered locally at the MDVA and in cooperation with other Royal Canadian Legions in York including Stouffville, Aurora and Newmarket.

“The reason I am so involved (with the program) is that  I’ve seen a real difference in people’s lives, including my own and my family and the community around me,” says Mitchell.

The course, taken over 13 hours, is not meant to replace professional counselling but rather to make people more comfortable responding to emerging mental health issues. Or, as the title suggests, applying mental health first aid.

Topics covered include recognizing common mental health issues like trauma-related, psychotic, mood and substance-related disorders and best responses for incidence of panic attacks, psychosis, overdose or acute stress reactions. The course is part of a bigger societal issue to decrease the stigma and discrimination around mental health.

This broader veteran’s support group trained by MHFA now totals over 200,000 people nationally and about 500 so far in York Region. The sessions at the MDVA are offered quarterly. To register or find out more about the course in the Markham and Stouffville area, contact [email protected] or [email protected] or visit


Photo: Ryan Mitchell, kneeling centre-left, is one of the organizers of the MHFA course. Here he poses with recent graduates of the course held recently at the Markham and district Veterans Association.

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