I’ve just completed a two day course. It was called Mental Health First Aid, and I’m so pumped up from it I just had to share my experience.
Most courses are so boring. You sit there counting how many slides are left on the screen to run through before you get to go home. Or worse, you sit bored to tears in group work hoping when it comes to giving feedback that if you keep your eyes down low enough you won’t have to say a word. This was not like that.
I never looked at my watch, I felt comfortable enough not only to participate, but wanting to be first to speak. I didn’t even experience the usual mid-afternoon energy slump. All because the course was just that good, keeping my attention the entire time.
Let me tell you about it.
First things first, what is the MHFA course?
Well it’s an education program, run by a Community Interest Company called Mental Health First Aid England. It is designed to teach people (people like me and you), how to spot, and more importantly understand, a person (that could be you or me too) who may be developing a mental health problem. Just like a physical first aid course it teaches the skills to provide support on a first aid basis and signpost the person effectively once the initial aid has been given.
The course, which started it’s roots in Australia, uses detailed research in all aspects of mental health to deliver high quality training. So far it’s trained over 77,000 (77,001 now) in England. But here is an interesting fact. Just in North East Lincolnshire alone, if the same numbers of people required to take physical first aid, took MH first aid, we’d be looking at around 40,000 people needing to be trained just in NEL alone.
With mental health becoming one of the biggest healthcare issues in the UK and with an estimated 1 in 4 people expected to experience mental health issues within any year it’s no longer something that should be ignored, glossed over or worse dealt with alone.
I’ve been touched by mental health in very personal ways and I suspect you have too. In fact I’d hazard a guess there won’t be one reader that hasn’t seen someone, or experienced a mental health issue themselves. That’s why this course is so important.
The very wide subject of mental health I find fascinating and extremely interesting. Not only wanting to help people but get a better understanding of what mental health is. Having almost caused a carpet fire at the speed to which I went and signed up for the course – I wasn’t in any way disappointed.
Would I know what to do if someone was having a panic attack, a psychotic episode or talking about committing suicide? I didn’t and yet I could be faced with someone having any of these issues, at any time. You wouldn’t walk away from someone that was bleeding and shouting for help so why would you turn away from someone that was going through agony in their mind?
Before the course I thought I had some notions about people experiencing mental health issues but in actual fact I really didn’t have a clue. When you hear someone actually talk in front of you quite candidly about their very real (and harrowing) battles they have faced and continue to face on a daily basis, not to mention in turn how they have been treated, it sure does make you sit up and listen.
It’s nothing like TV and it’s certainly nothing like you read in a newspaper.
I am one of these people that always, always want solutions. If someone comes to me with a problem I want to be able to either help them find a solution or help them with the solution, and I’ll very often react that way without taking into account why they have told me. I just want to eliminate the problem and do it as quickly as possible.
With mental health there is sometimes no easy solution and what solutions are available are not mine to give, or work on. Simple as that. Instead it’s about understanding the problem and not expecting to give a solution to someone who would have found the solution by now if there was one.
For me that was the biggest lesson learnt on this course, one that has made me think rather deeply and reflectively.
As the two days came to a close I now not only want to study mental health further but I have also learnt important new skills. Ones that I can take with me everywhere I go.
I can be there at certain stages of a person’s mental health issue, or crisis. I can support that person for a very short period and that however short that period is I will do my level best to make sure they are safe, listened to and directed to further support.
Of course, I’m also going to be a huge advocate of this course.
I really do recommend anyone that works in health/social care, works with children, older people or carers need to get on the first aider course now But really if we, as decent human beings (that we are), are to ever challenge the negativity, stigma and stereotypes of mental health portrayed by the media, and if we are really wanting to understand and move mental health care into the 21st Century then everyone needs to go on this course.
Cover photo of St Johns, Lincoln County Asylum taken by Olga Pavlovsky. I used this picture because I’ve actually explored the place myself (come on, who wouldn’t!). A huge mental asylum that only closed it’s doors in 1989. It had the strangest feeling in all the areas. As I went seeking from one Victorian room to another, I wondered how the patients had thought and felt being locked up and treated in such a way that removed their dignity, and in most cases, kept them from their family and friends for years on end while at the same time never really supporting the patients. Thank goodness we’ve learnt from those times.