What is Mental Health First Aid (and why am I harping on about it in this blog?)

Warning and disclaimer

There may be elements of what you are about to read that could be triggering to the reader, these are my personal experiences and relate to my recently completed Mental Health First Aid course, should this be the case please do ensure you seek further support (some suggested links can be found at the end or you can look me up at Your Talent Solutions if you have any Mental Health First Aid queries).

About

For those that know me you’ll know that any training that is ever offered by any organisation I have ever worked or been involved with – I’m there; Leadership, Google Digital Garage, I2I HQ (well worth looking into) etc.  So, when the opportunity to attend a Mental Health First Aid training workshop came along (two full days plus plenty of pre-work), my hand shot up.

My reasons for wishing to do so (apart from the above) and also not really knowing what to expect but due to lived experiences (a common theme among delegates) I was keen to find out if I could be of any help to anyone in a mental health crisis.

I’m not going to detail everything that was covered in the workshops but because of the overwhelming support from the wider team at Your Talent Solutions I decided to put together a blog of the elements that spoke to me most in the hope that in a very practical way the reader could then use themselves (maybe prompt them to investigate the course further?).  

Awareness

From the beginning the seemingly obvious first question we faced (from our fantastic instructor Claire at Hornbeam Training and Wellbeing Ltd) was ‘What is Mental Health?’  This really did make all of us pause for a moment to really consider this.

‘Mental Health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’

The World Health Organisation (2014)

And the aim of the course.

‘First aid is the help given to a person who is ill or injured before professional medical treatment can be obtained.  The aims of any first aid are to:

  • Preserve Life
  • Prevent harm
  • Promote recovery
  • Provide comfort to the person who is ill or injured’

MHFA England (2016)

These two ‘starters for ten’ really were what stopped me and really got me to think.  A large proportion of us can recall the St Johns Ambulance fabulous ‘physical’ first aid courses, the ‘Resusci Anne’ doll from the CPR training, indeed it is part of our culture now and you hear stories everyday where someone has stopped and helped someone if they have been in an accident or in urgent need of physical support or first aid.  We get taught this at school, at various organisations outside school, and this is obviously the way to go.  So instinctively we see someone in physical distress, and it is ingrained in us what we should do.  What happens when we see someone in obvious mental distress?  Do we put our heads down and walk past?  Why is it that we do that?

What really hit me were the various statistics; in Great Britain in 2018 1,784 people died in road traffic accidents, in the same year 6,154 people took their own life (the terminology we use is also very key, mirror the person you are talking to of course but make sure you look at MHFA England to find out more about what we should and shouldn’t be saying).

The point being, as with the physical first aid, road safety is taught in schools, in organisations outside of schools and rightly so.  But for the near 400% more largely preventable deaths there is no widespread teaching or training of Mental Health First Aid and this in my opinion needs to change, this is not even considering the 75% of people diagnosed with a mental illness that receive no treatment at all.

What can I do?

Well, I am now a qualified Mental Health First Aider, the following is what I can practically now and will do (everyone loves an acronym and MHFA England have even produced a lanyard to help me remember!)  There are some suggested links and further reading in the reference section at the end of the blog also.

I will always remember the five basic steps taught to me in ALGEE;

A – Approach the person, assess, and assist with any crisis

L – Listen and communicate non-judgmentally (and there is a whole extra session from MHFA England about our own ‘Frame of Reference’ to help us to understand how we can manage this)

G – Give support and information (physical and mental support)

E – Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help (stay with them and call someone if you think this is needed)

E – Encourage other supports (friends, family, community, maybe someone has helped before?)

We learned how these steps can be applied to the mental health issues of suicidal crisis, depression, substance misuse, anxiety disorders, self-harm, eating disorders and psychosis.

Self-help

The key point underlying all of this of course is ensuring you are in a place where you are able to provide this support so you should always keep your own mental health at the top of your own agenda, finding out what is in your stress container and how to keep this from overflowing is vital

here.  Wrap that protection around yourself before you wrap it around someone else and always be mindful of the risk factors.

Summary and next steps

This is a fraction of what was covered in the Mental Health First Aid workshop I recently completed, I hope something here has caused you the reader to pause and consider the gravity of not having a country full of qualified mental health first aiders, I know I am much more confident about what I can and should do (and of course what I should avoid) when I see someone in crisis now, let us remove that stigma and realise that it really is ‘ok not to be ok’ and that there are people out there that do care and perhaps more importantly can actually and practically help you.

Going forwards we are all committing to checking in on each other via WhatsApp each morning, how do we genuinely feel (out of 10) when we wake up in the morning, again this is a non-judgemental simple thing and if we can move from a 5 to a 6 for example then we are looking after our own, and our teams mental health.  Moving further forwards there will be a follow up once a month where I will introduce the team to further details of the course, the next topic being; what fills our individual ‘stress containers’ and more importantly what helpful coping strategies do we each have to self-manager this?

We’ve seen this will be a slow process but we will get there.

References

MHFA – Links and Resources

Mental Health First Aid England – Website

MHFA Manual

NHS IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) services

Community Mental Health

Crisis Contacts

NHS: 999 emergency or nearest A&E department

111 professional health advice 24/7

Emergency GP appointment

Samaritans

116 123 (24/7 freephone)

Early intervention in Psychosis Teams

Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Teams / Mind

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