The project called e-Learning Mental Health First Aid, Singapore (eMHFA(S)) was rolled out at a mental wellness community fair in Bukit Merah recently. It aims to better equip members of the community with the skills and training to detect signs of mental illness.

The programme targets to recruit 900 leaders and members of community over the next three years. Currently, 89 individuals from various groups such as welfare organisations and unions have been trained under this initiative.

The online platform was pioneered by Changi General Hospital (CGH) and Temasek Foundation Cares, the latter of which organised the community fair and pledged SGD$ 578,000 to the programme.

Online platform important for the general community

Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister officially launched the project and noted the programme to be important for several reasons.

Firstly, as mental illness is rarely discussed, the programme is crucial to help people to be more open about the topic. Secondly, he said, “The earlier we spot the problem, the easier it is for the person to avoid the situation from getting worse, and the easier it is for them to enjoy their lives as they grow older.”

He continued that the third reason is more volunteers will be trained on the ground. “We can use this opportunity as the society gets older to also strengthen our community bond,” added Shanmugaratnam.

Temasek Foundation Cares Chairman, Richard Magnus also commented on background of the first-aiders stating, “We've decided to target community leaders in this particular case because they're the natural first-responders.”

“They know the neighbours, they know people who are suffering from mental health, and it gives them a natural connection with them,” he added.

“So we want to be able to propagate that, this pedagogical model, so that members of the community are empowered themselves, in order to help the neighbour.”

More people easily trained in lesser amount of time

The standard MHFA course was launched in Singapore in 2008 and aims to teach volunteers how to identify the signs of mental illnesses, to provide first aid and to guide those affected to seek professional assistance. After course completion, participants are certified Mental Health First Aiders.

The e-learning programme converts parts of the two-day mental health first aid course into online lessons. As the regular course has to be done on-site, the online platform seems more feasible as participants only need to spend half a day in the classroom. Most of the learning is conducted online at their own convenience.

During the community fair, Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Joan Pereira said that 20 grassroots volunteers from her Henderson-Dawson ward have been taught under the pilot. She hopes to see over 50 volunteers, varying from interest group leaders to hawkers, participate in the programme by the end of 2018.

“These are people who meet residents on a daily basis and, being close to them, can immediately identify behavioural changes,” said Pereira. MIMS

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