Assessing the training needs f First Nations mental health workers in Manitoba

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McSwain, Karen Joan
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Through open-ended interviews, people in three Manitoba reserve communities are asked the following questions: what does mental health mean; what are the problems, the causes, and the solutions to mental health problems in their communities; what training and skills do First Nations mental health workers need; what are the attributes of a good helper; and what supports do helpers require? The priority mental health problems of depression and anxiety, suicide, and substance abuse are symptoms of imbalance and disharmony, and the consequences of the losses and abuses suffered. Healing means returning individuals, families, communities and the nations to states of balance and harmony. The solutions to mental health problems must include rebuilding community resources through political self-determination and rebuilding positive cultural identity. Mental health systems are being constructed by First Nations blending western health and social service models with native traditional approaches. First Nations mentalhealth systems place emphasis upon public education and community development as well as upon treatment. First Nations community mental health workers need strong working ties with mainstream mental health specialists for ongoing training, supervision, and consultation; they need to be members of the community team (including elders and the general public), but must also connect communities to mental health resources available in the rest of the province. There are six areas of training required by mental health workers in First Nations: counselling skills; mental health theory and practise; writing and agency skills; public education skills; community development skills; and spiritual/traditional training. The crucial attributes of a First Nations helper are self-healing/self-awareness, caring, and a First Nations background. Mental health is part of an attitude of healing and harmonious connection with all of creation; this attitude includes traditional values of respect and caring which must form the foundation of First Nations mental health systems. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)