WIMMERA Primary Care Partnership has provided free mental health first aid training to more than 1000 people since 2016, equating to about three per cent of the region's population.
There have been more than 70 sessions for 1111 people across the region, while workplaces and schools have also participated in training.
The project started in 2016 after a seasonal conditions meeting with Horsham Rural City Council, and West Wimmera, Yarriambiack and Hindmarsh shires.
Wimmera PCP mental health first aid program co-ordinator and instructor Lissy Johns has been involved since the program started.
"Those councils pooled their money and got instructors trained locally. We started with 11 instructors. It then dropped to six and now we have eight," she said.
"We make sure there's a minimum amount of sessions run in each of those (shires) and we offer those courses for free. We have gone outside those four (shires) as well.
"Because resources are quite low on the ground, if we can create community champions who can identify the symptoms of someone who is struggling, we can hopefully reach out to them or get them to talk to someone from the Rural Outreach Program.
"If we can get them to seek help, then we can intervene before it gets to that crisis stage."
She said Wimmera PCP offered two forms of mental health first aid courses.
"The youth mental health first aid course is designed for adults supporting young people and runs for 14 hours. The standard mental health first aid course is a 12-hour course and is for adults supporting adults," she said.
"The only difference is that the youth course has information about eating disorders and self injury. Most of the information is transferable to any age group, however there is a different course for the elderly."
Ms Johns has taught mental health first aid training to students at schools in Warracknabeal, Hopetoun and St Arnaud.
"Most schools do it in their health curriculum. The students have been really responsive, which is great to see - they are the adults of the future," she said.
"I've seen a real closing of the loop because we're giving the kids the same tools as adults so they can have the confidence to have those conversations with each other.
"We're arming them with information about how their brain works and letting them know that they're not alone whether they feel anxious about school. No matter what age they are, it's important to acknowledge those negative thoughts and find ways to stop them."
Wimmera PCP also offers its courses to workplaces interested in private sessions.
"I've certainly seen a shift in workplaces considering having mental health first aid officers, just like they have fire wardens and people with first aid training," Ms Johns said.
"We all suffer from situational distress at one point or another. I think employers need to be more aware of reaching out to employees over a long period time after those life-changing events such as marriage break-ups or deaths in the family.
"If there's a death in the family, society norms say that we should grieve for a few weeks and get back on with our lives. But anniversaries and Christmas and all those significant events can be difficult."
Wimmera PCP rural access project officer Holly Noonan completed the course for adults supporting young people last month.
"I was suggested to do it by a close friend, who has depression," she said.
"The course covered depression, anxiety, eating disorders and drug and alcohol abuse. It was good to get insight into those aspects and how they relate to a person's overall mental health.
"The thing I felt was most insightful was knowing when to start a conversation by noticing a change in a person's behaviour. I feel like I've already used the training in my day-to-day life."
Miss Noonan said the course helped her understand how to help people who needed mental health support.
"It's important to make sure they are in a comfortable environment and have the right person to speak to, then to help them with a pathway to access support," she said.
Wimmera PCP executive officer Geoff Witmitz said the feedback from the courses was always positive.
"The sessions involve a lot of information sharing in the room and sharing personal stories. We've never had anyone tell us it's been a waste of two days," he said.
"The training gives people the skills to recognise that someone is not travelling well. When I did the youth mental health course, it gave me a better understanding of my own children."
He said mental health first aid training courses were especially important in regional areas.
"We live in an agriculture focused region and there are lots of issues in that sector around situational distress," he said.
"The course helps people better understand where the next steps are when someone is feeling distress. This training, along with the Rural Outreach Program, helps fill a gap for the region.
"We have such a shortage of GPs in the region so we need different strategies and solutions so people can get the right care."
The next Wimmera PCP mental health first aid training course is on March 17 and 18, 2020 at the Centre for Participation in Horsham.
Ms Johns said people could contact her on 5362 3446 to register.
She said Wimmera PCP has also started work on a post-suicide counselling service.
"When someone has died by suicide, the police send out an e-referral for those immediately affected by the death," Ms Johns said.
"What we're creating is a wrap-around service so there's a system to refer everyone who has been affected. That way we'll be able to identify the gaps and hopefully fill them.
"It's in the early stages but we have run courses recently through suicide postvention program StandBy - Support AfterSuicide.
"I lost my own father to suicide, so I'm very passionate that people have some kind of follow-up. Having that lived experience helps break down the barriers and feel more comfortable to open up."
- If you, or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Help on 1800 55 1800 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467; in emergencies, phone 000.
- Groups, volunteers provide mental health support through advocacy
- Mental health advocate Lauren Dempsey encourages others to reach out
- Advocates encourage men to talk about mental health
- Ballarat Health Services advocates for mental health beds in Horsham
- Psychologist says anxiety is still stigmatised following new Beyond Blue data
- Healthy Minds Horsham advocates for preventative mental health care ahead of stress workshop
- Wimmera farmers share mental health experiences
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