I have been teaching MHFA since 2012, and during that time I can honestly say it has been an extremely rewarding experience. I have had the opportunity to travel the country and meet some wonderful people all while sharing knowledge about mental health. It has been amazing to see all the different MHFA courses develop and go live during this time. While I am only certified to teach the basic course, I know many of my colleagues who deliver other versions of the course including MHFA for Seniors, First Nations, and Youth.
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Al Kareem Visram, Psychologist
Al Kareem Visram is a Provisionally Registered Psychologist in Alberta Canada with a passion for all things mental wellness. He started his career in mental health in 2011 when he was trained in Crisis Intervention and started volunteering with the 24-hour distress phone line. Continuing his passion for mental health, he acquired further training in Critical Incident Stress Management and Group Intervention training followed by becoming an instructor for the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course offered through the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Recognizing the need within his own religious community, Al-Kareem quickly took on the role of educating members of the Ismaili Muslim community. This quickly spread nationwide. In 2017, he was honoured to receive an award through the Center for Addictions and Mental Health as one of Canada's top 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health. Following his interests further, he went back to school full time in 2018 and is now a Registered Provisional Psychologist who is working with the Canadian Mental Health Association helping those who have lost someone to suicide. He also runs his own Private Practice, Fine Balance Wellness, in which he works with clients from all backgrounds and walks of life. He specializes in grief and loss support, anxiety, depression, and men’s health. He has additional training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Gottman’s Couples Therapy and Suicide Intervention and Prevention.
The value of this course is unlimited in my opinion. I have delivered hundreds of courses and facilitated for thousands of Canadians. During this time, I have had people share their personal experiences with me and reach out to me months, even years after they took the course to express the value they received from it. In brief, learning topics include how to recognize someone with declining mental wellbeing, how to engage in supportive conversation with them and link to available resources. It can also help the attendees personally with information on self-care, substance use, and managing crises.
The course invites any human to engage in serious conversations and invites them to further their knowledge in an area that is riddled with stigma and judgment. It allows people to question their own self stigmas and connect with a version of themselves they didn’t know was there.
From a personal perspective, teaching this course has helped me solidify my passion for mental health and after teaching for a few years, I decided to go back to school and become a psychologist. I don’t know where I would be today, if it was not for the experiences of teaching this course. The countless number of individuals I have talked to, shared grief with and educated about mental health and wellness is something that I am truly grateful for.
While the mental health commission of Canada has done an amazing job making this course available to so many people as well as moving virtually, it would be nice to have the information available in other languages. Working with the Muslim population of Canada, there are members of our community that could really benefit from the course material but do not speak English or French.
I too have experienced the stigma and shame surrounding mental health. Like the larger Canadian population, our Ismaili Muslim community is not immune to issues surrounding mental health; we are also not immune to the stigma, shame and judgment that is associated with it. Recognizing the need within the community, myself and a small team started teaching the MHFA course to members of our community. With the amazing support of the community, this initiative quickly spread across the country and today, 8 years later, we are still facilitating MHFA to members of our community nationwide. The course has been so well received and feedback continues to be positive amongst members who take the course. As a community, we have come a long way, and like other communities, there is always room for more progress.
Photograph by Lauren Dary Photography
Netanya is currently a Media and Public Interest student at Western University, and is doing a placement with mindyourmind. She is from the GTA and is passionate about all things mental health, storytelling and empowerment.