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Youth mental health first aid course comes to Christchurch

Image of the Ōtākaro Avon River in Christchurch City, framed by trees.
Youth Mental Health First Aid Aotearoa is hosting its first Christchurch new instructor training course this August.

Schools and youth services in Christchurch will benefit from an innovative mental health first aid training programme coming to the region in August.

Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Aotearoa new instructor training will be held in Christchurch from 19 to 23 August.

The evidence-based, internationally recognised programme teaches adults how to recognise and respond to young people aged 11 to 18 years old who may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis.

“Youth in New Zealand in crisis when it comes to mental health,” says MHFA Aotearoa Programme Manager Sarah Christensen, an experienced mental health nurse and educator. “As a country, we need to do more to support our young people.”

The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand recently reported that more than one in two young people experience anxiety or depression.

“Adults have a duty of care to look out for the young people, but people don’t always recognise the signs of distress or an emerging mental health challenge, or know what to do or say,” says Christensen.

Youth MHFA Aotearoa gives people the skills, knowledge and confidence, to notice and assist young people during a mental health crisis or with a mental health challenge. It teaches them how to have a conversation, what questions to ask, and gives them a five-step action plan to follow.

“Just like learning physical first aid skills, learning about mental health first aid is really important. We advocate this programme for all adults who work with youth, including school guidance counsellors, deans, teachers, youth workers and pastors, sports coaches and parents.”

The Youth MHFA Aotearoa programme covers common mental health challenges experienced by young people including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, suicide and non-suicidal self-injury.

Photo of smiling Sarah Christensen, the Programme Lead for Mental Health First Aid Aotearoa. Sarah is smiling and the MHFA logo is beside her.
Mental Health First Aid Aotearoa Programme Lead Sarah Christensen is passionate about youth mental health.

Christensen says that early intervention is key with mental health to prevent things from worsening.

“Half of all people who have mental health challenges first experience them before they turn 18.”

Youth MHFA Aotearoa is an internationally recognised, evidence-based programme that first launched in New Zealand in 2023 in the lower South Island supported by Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group.

The Christchurch Youth MHFA new instructor training in August is a five-day programme that trains people to become Youth MHFA instructors.

Once accredited, these instructors can teach the two-day Youth MHFA workshop in their schools, workplaces, sports clubs, organisations and communities, teaching other adults to become Mental Health First Aiders for young people aged 11 to 18.

“This programme is creating a ripple effect of positive change,” says Christensen.

“We know that a conversation can save a life, and Youth Mental Health First Aid Aotearoa gives people the knowledge and confidence to act. Like physical first aid, mental health first aid is a valuable skill that anyone can learn, and everyone should have.”

To date, 32 people have been trained as Youth MHFA Aotearoa instructors and 314 as Youth Mental Health First Aiders in New Zealand – the vast majority in the Southern Lakes region.

In New Zealand, Mental Health First Aid Aotearoa is licensed by Te Pou.

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