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First Youth Mental Health First Aid Aotearoa courses start in Southern Lakes

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The first Youth Mental Health First Aid Aotearoa courses are under way this month in the Southern Lakes, before being rolled out across New Zealand.

In the innovative new programme for adults, participants learn how to notice that a young person (aged 11-18) might be experiencing a mental health challenge, and the best tools to provide mental health first aid.  The course also covers communication skills specific to young people and outlines professional support pathways.

Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group partnered with Te Pou, a national workforce development centre for the mental health, addiction, and disability sectors, to bring the acclaimed international evidence-based programme to Aotearoa and adapt it for New Zealand-specific use.

Registered Counsellor Kathryn Wright became one of ten accredited Youth Mental Health First Aid Aotearoa instructors in June this year and decided to run the first programme in Te Anau before the busy summer season. She already has eight people on a waitlist for the second.

“The response has been amazing. Some want to do it because they work directly with young people and others are parents. We’re a very small community, so as well as being parents we wear multiple hats and do different roles; it might be coaching a team or running a sausage sizzle at a fundraiser. So it’s awesome that there’s going to be more support out there for our young people,” says Kathryn.

The two-day course covers common mental health challenges and crises experienced by young people; like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, substance use and psychosis.

Te Anau Youth Mental Health First Aider Sandra Macnamara recommends the course for everyone - including grandparents. “I now know the difference between anxiety, depression and psychosis. And we now have all these people in our community who can recognise the signs and know what to do.”

Another Te Anau Youth Mental Health First Aider Jackie Knowles says she did the course because she believes it’s important to ensure there’s enough community support in place. “I love the fact that so many people in our community want to be there for our younger people. It’s important to have those difficult conversations and to feel empowered to communicate.”

Counsellor Kathryn Wright is already planning the next course, which will be over a weekend. She says all the interest has been from women. “That’s great, but I would really love to see some men in our community doing this as well.”

The second Youth Mental Health First Aid programme is being held for youth workers in Queenstown. Te Hau Toka Acting Chair Jo O’Connor says she’s thrilled that there are already over 20 Youth Mental Health First Aiders in the district. “Half of all people who will ever have a mental health challenge will experience their first episode before they’re 18, and young people are less likely to seek or receive treatment. Early intervention can make a real difference and we now have people with the knowledge, tools and support to help.”

To find out more about courses coming up in the community please contact Karyn at