Suicide prevention through Mental Health First Aid
First Aid is a very well known and important procedure in society. But, Mental Health First Aid is something new in this country. It was imported from Australia where it was developed. South African experts identified the need for this program as a result of rising numbers of cases of patients with mental illnesses.
The Chief Executive Officer of Zeal Health Innovations, Malik Vazi, is one of the people who sought help from the Melbourne University in Australia in introducing this programme. Mental Health First Aid equips trainees with skills to identify and manage suicide tendencies amongst people who are mentally ill. ‘The first and most important thing to consider is whether the person has a plan (to commit suicide). Secondly, another important thing is whether that person has attempted (suicide) before’, said Vazi.
Vazi says South Africa is very proud to be the first African country to introduce Mental Health First Aid. Mental Health experts from abroad also agree. “There is a need for Mental Health First Aid. I think not just in South Africa or Australia, probably everywhere’, said Betty Kitchener, the Director of the Mental Health First Aid Training and Research Programme in Australia’s Melbourne University.
Vazi said issues such as stigma have pushed mental health workers to bridge the gap between mentally fit people and those with mental health problems. ‘There are problems such as stigma, for instance. People with mental health illnesses are isolated. They are not given opportunities and those who live with them, get confused not knowing what to do. This kind of aid, we think, will increase knowledge, increase confidence and increase skills amongst those who live with mentally ill patients’, said Vazi.
Just over two weeks ago, South Africa observed Teen Suicide Prevention Week. ‘We think that it is vital for school teachers, school principals and others to enrol in the programme. They will gain knowledge on how to handle suicidal teens, so that even before (they commit suicide) they apply interventionist and preventative methods, as early as possible’, concluded Vazi.