Two people sit across from each other at a table while they have a discussion.

Humber College has launched a new micro-credential program designed to provide front-line workers with tools to support their mental health and wellness.

The new Open Mind: Mental Health and Wellness for Frontline Professionals certificate of accomplishment micro-credential program will help those enrolled learn how to balance the physical and emotional challenges that come with a career as a front-line worker while also familiarizing them with wellness techniques used to maximize healing, resilience, and positivity. They will gain skills to support their own mental health as well as that of their front-line peers.

The micro-credential course Working the Frontlines: The Cost of Caring is accepting applications for this summer. Two additional courses – Mental Health and Wellness plus Suicide Prevention and Intervention – will be available in the fall.  

“Front-line workers have been hit hard during the pandemic and with these courses we thought about how we could give them the tools to survive the challenges of their jobs, as we know how hard they can be,” said Victoria Ryder-Burbidge, associate dean, Continuous Professional Learning with Humber College’s Faculty of Health Sciences & Wellness. “If we can help reduce burnout, mental weariness and fatigue, they can continue to do their jobs effectively.”

Dr. Jason Powell, senior dean, Faculty of Health Sciences & Wellness at Humber, returned to work as an emergency department nurse once the COVID-19 pandemic started. Powell saw firsthand the toll the pandemic took on front-line workers.

“Throughout the pandemic front-line workers, in all capacities, experienced significant mental and physical strain,” said Powell. “They experienced conditions that many had not dealt with throughout their career – from wearing N95 masks for 12 straight hours to witnessing their patients die alone without a loved one at their bedside due to visitor restrictions. These conditions placed significant mental strain on front-line workers.”

The courses were created in partnership with the Tema Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on mental health and wellness for front-line workers, first responders, health-care professionals, public safety personnel and the people in their lives by developing educational curriculums and programs.  

"We need to ensure all of these individuals are well prepared, both physically and mentally, when they enter this line of work," said Colleen Kamps, education and curriculum development manager with the Tema Foundation. “It’s our hope that more and more of our front-line workers will retire from their chosen careers knowing that they have contributed to their communities and their country in a most meaningful way and with their mental health intact. They have supported and protected us, now let’s do what we can to support and protect them."  
The Ontario government provided a grant of $120,000 in the fall to fund the creation of the micro-credential courses, which allowed Humber to move quickly to develop them in response to a growing need that became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a release announcing the funding, it was noted that 74 per cent of Ontarians experienced increased mental health challenges during the pandemic, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“They’ve been working under exceptional circumstances with many dealing with long hours and no time off while being short on staff and resources,” said Tammy Cameron, program advisor, Continuous Professional Learning. “These micro-credential courses are designed for front-line workers but also the people that support them, such as their families.”

Prior to COVID-19, if you asked someone for their definition of a front-line worker, they likely would have said police officer or firefighter. Both Ryder-Burbidge and Cameron said that evolved during the pandemic and front-line workers can include public-facing professions such as social workers or transit drivers along with paramedics, firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors and many others.  
The micro-credentials will teach skills that are relevant to workers in those roles as well.

Working the Frontlines: The Cost of Caring focuses on understanding the stress of working the frontline, recognizing the impact of this work and learning that there are important elements to maintain a good balance between work and life in order improve one's overall mental health and well-being.  

Mental Health and Wellness helps participants gain a better understanding of mental health and the stigma that surrounds mental health challenges, explains why it’s important to create a culture of health and well-being, teaches how to recognize the signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental health challenges, and also how to develop effective tools to help better manage mental health.

Suicide Prevention and Intervention is intended to help participants gain a better understanding of the complexities of suicide among first responders and health-care professionals as well as recognizing the signs, symptoms, protective and risk factors of suicide, learning effective ways to intervene and developing effective tools to help prevent suicide.

The courses are about 15 hours long and teach resiliency by imparting practical tools, tips and strategies but also are about breaking the stigma when it comes to talking about issues surrounding mental health.

“Learning about your mental health and wellness is as important as teaching someone how to administer medicine or walk a beat. Your mental health in these roles is essential,” added Ryder-Burbidge.

For more information about Open Mind: Mental Health and Wellness for Frontline Professionals, please visit the program website.