Conestoga news

October 5, 2014 12:18 AM

Partners for mental health

In conjunction with Mental Illness Awareness Week, Conestoga College and the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington Dufferin (CMHA WWD) are pleased to announce a new collaborative partnership designed to improve mental health literacy across our community and reduce the stigma related to metal illness.

A formal Memorandum of Understanding signed in July 2014 provides for the collaborative delivery of Mental Health First Aid programming along with a suite of additional training courses and workshops in the area of mental health promotion, prevention, services and care.

“We are delighted to work with the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington Dufferin to increase accessibility to mental health education,” said Marlene Raasok, executive dean of Conestoga’s School of Health & Life Sciences and Community Services. “We recognize that, in order to have a meaningful impact, we need to work collaboratively with key partners across sectors. This is an important step towards increasing awareness and support for mental health issues, part of our commitment to advancing healthy communities.”

“Partnerships with important community institutions like Conestoga College are vital to our mission to be more for the communities we serve,” added Fred Wagner, executive director of CMHA WWD. “Improving mental health literacy and reducing stigma happens one passionate person at a time. We know that this partnership will create large numbers of such people, equipped with the skills to navigate challenging situations related to mental health.”

Mental illness is the second leading cause of disability and premature death in Canada, affecting young people aged 15 - 24 more than any other age group. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion per year, including health-care costs, lost productivity, and reductions in health-related quality of life.

Mental Health First Aid is a 12-hour course designed to improve mental health literacy, and provide the skills and knowledge to help people better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, a family member, a friend or a colleague. Delivered over a single weekend, or through four evening sessions, the program provides useful training for families affected by mental health problems, teachers, health service providers, emergency workers, frontline workers who deal with the public, volunteers, human resources professionals, employers and community groups.

According to Don Wildfong, chair of Continuing Education and Specialty Programs, many students in Conestoga’s health-care and community services programs have already undertaken the training to augment their skills as they prepare to launch their careers. The college’s security personnel have also completed the training. Planning is now underway to include sessions for a broader range of college employees.

“Our goal,” said Wildfong, “is to develop a critical mass of employees trained in Mental Health First Aid to help support a healthy working and learning environment across our community.”

The Mental Health First Aid program is delivered by certified training specialists with experience in the field of mental health and mental illness. Sessions will be available monthly throughout the calendar year. For more information, or to register for an upcoming session, visit

The week of October 5 - 11 is Mental Illness Awareness Week 2014 in Canada. This annual national public education campaign is designed to help Canadians develop an understanding of the realities of mental illness. Established in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the campaign is coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health in cooperation with its member organizations and other supporters across Canada.