Clinical psychologist: People should know mental health first aid

Anna-Kaisa Oidermaa on ETV's
Anna-Kaisa Oidermaa on ETV's "Plekktrumm". Source: Kairit Leibold / ERR

Anna Kaisa Oidermaa, a clinical psychologist and CEO of, an initiative to promote mental health in Estonia, told ETV's culture interview show "Plekktrumm" that mental health topics should not be ridiculed and that all people should be able to administer mental health first aid.

Oidermaa, who recently received a state decoration, has worked on for ten years with the goal of raising awareness on mental health topics. The innitiative has grown significantly since it was established in 2009.

"We have this lofty goal of having 1 percent of Estonians be the kind of people that know how to give mental health first aid by the end of next year. Each person has a circle, some 100 people who they know and if one of those is someone who can give first aid and support at times of difficulty, it can bring forth a significant development leap in our mental health organization," Oidermaa said.

She explained that mental health first aid is a set of skills, similar to regular first aid. "You can learn how to listen to another person if they are in a tough situation. How will I listen so they would actually want to talk and get better," Oidermaa said.

Another skill, according to Oidermaa, is that a person would be able to assess dangers and recognize when they should call the emergency line (112) and when they can offer support themselves. "Among that set of skills is also how to find professional help and how to implement self-help measures."

A first aid provider would not have to diagnose, but rather notice when people are in need and require support. "It is a critical spot of these first aid skills, you must dare to ask. There are signs occasionally that are not point blank, but it is very important that if people give even the slightest hint of difficulties, you need to ask," Oidermaa noted.

"If deadlines are pushed, there are long delays or people have short fuses - these are signs to note and think if first aid should be provided," she added.

Anna-Kaisa Oidermaa on ETV's "Plekktrumm". Source: Kairit Leibold / ERR has also began campaigning for "mental health vitamins", which try to promote the small things that everyone can pay attention to in order to maintain and strengthen mental health. "You can do these mental health vitamins yourself - they are communication, balanced eating, sleep and rest, bringing in pleasant emotions and movement," Oidermaa said.

"If you consume these five vitamins, then I would hope managing from spring to summer gets a bit easier. They are very elementary things, but they are the foundation that is scientifically proven and can be trusted," she continued.

Those vitamins would also help deal with the mental exhaustion stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. "The exhaustion comes from the uncertainty and not knowing what will happen. That is why it is good to establish some routines that we can control ourselves and to do something good for yourself," the psychologist said.

Loneliness is also something that can cause mental health issues. Oidermaa said people should begin by taking better care of themselves, being friendlier and nicer to yourself. "The feeling of loneliness can be helped with empathy, thinking about how others are doing and how there are millions of people feeling lonely right now, also thinking of what I can do for someone else," she explained.

Only superpeople are filled to the brim with mental health

What does a person with terrific mental health look like? Oidermaa said it is defined by coping with everyday things and productivity. It is someone who can realize their talents, manage their everyday tensions, be productive and give something back. "It is the definition of mental health, but we can have moments in a day even, where our mental health could be good and then have a moment where we do not fill even 50 percent of that goal," she said.

"This definition does not have to be pursued all the time. But people have more difficulties handling these everyday tensions and if stress piles up in our lives, it is expressed in the most normal mental health issues, such as depression or different anxiety disorders," Oidermaa explained.

She admitted that it feels like there are more and more mental health problems and there is likely something in the environment that causes it. "At this time, it is hard to put a finger on it, but when it comes to science and researching mental health, the Estonian Genome Project (Geenivaramu) will soon begin a study that will collect mental health data. When that invite comes, I recommend people go, perhaps we can then find out why this is so," Oidermaa said.

Both young and old people are receptible to mental health issues. "It is also understandable. When you age, there might be certain losses, such as health, your vision of yourself as a young, healthy and active person. Loss of work, family or friends. It can cause despair," she noted.

"Studies say the same, there is a number of people who are not depressed as they age, they are more satisfied and happy with life than young people. Guess there is a crossroads where you can direct life in the right direction," she explained.

The key to going in the right direction could be managing losses, meaning how people handle disappointment, failure and where they lose something important to them. "The people who go through that while young are happy. They have an opportunity to handle such disappointment. If your first loss is going on pension and losing colleagues and everyday activities and if this is your first major loss, it might be complicated to handle," Oidermaa explained.

"Plekktrumm" host Joonas Hellermaa interviewing Anna-Kaisa Oidermaa. Source: Kairit Leibold / ERR

Estonian mental health has gaps

The World Health Organization (WHO) has drawn up a pyramid of mental health aid, which is also an example for Estonia, pointing out where mental health in the country should head toward. At the base of the pyramid are self-help skills, where Estonia should contribute most.

"They are the same vitamins. Those should have the greatest focus. Next should be communal support, that might be a folk dance group for example and giving mental health first aid - the feeling of social cohesion," Oidermaa said.

"Next are official and formal communal services, first-level help, such as general physicians and only then is outpatient and stationary psychiatric care. But currently, more is expected from the top of that pyramid. THere are too many holes at the bottom," she noted.

Estonia lacks psychologists and psychiatrists and queues are so long that people often cannot wait any longer for help. "I would still recommend putting yourself in a queue and while you wait, deal with the basic things - self-help, accepting support from others, turn to and our advisers to do something in order to fill that time in a useful way," the psychologist said.

Another issue is the government's avoidance of supporting clinical psychology over recent years. "It is high time for it to change. It is not too resource-intensive, but there have been cases where master's graduates of clinical psychology do not go to paid employment, but rather pay for internships themselves. That seems absurd," Oidermaa noted.

"I sincerely hope that funding for a professional year is here to stay, because there is a shortage of psychologists. So many years of talking and justifying why we need this. Now we have it for one year, but I do not dare hope it will last. Politicians have not considered mental health a sexy enough topic, it has been said that it is not pensions or national security - it does not bring in any votes," Oidermaa admonished.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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