Mental Health First Aid Training

This week I was lucky enough to go on a 2 day Mental Health First Aid course at work. (perhaps timely as its national suicide prevention week.) I already knew a bit about mental health, but I’m always one for learning more.

Mental health is:

The emotional and spiritual resilience which allows us to enjoy life and survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a positive sense if well being and an underlying belief in our own and others dignity and worth.

The reason I wanted to do the course was so that I could have a better understanding of various mental health conditions, and find out more about the best way to help people who might be experiencing mental ill health.

The notes below are mainly for me to look back on, but they might be of interest to others. If you want to learn more, you can logon to:

But what is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental health first aid is there to: preserve life, to prevent deterioration of any injury or illness, to promote healing and recovery and to provide comfort to the ill or injured.

It doesn’t teach us to be mental health professionals, but it des teach us to recognise the symptoms of mental health problems, to provide initial help and guide a person towards professional help.

…and why is there a need for Mental Health First Aid?

– Mental health problems are common, one in four experiences a problem with their mental health in a year.

– There is a stigma associated with mental health problems, and this may hinder people from seeking help.

– People are often ashamed to discuss mental health with family, friends and with colleagues.

– Many people are not well informed of where they can go for help, how to recognise mental I’ll health, or what to do about it when it happens. People may lack the insight to know that something isn’t quite right.

– Professional help is not always on hand. Just like with standard first aid, a mental health first Aider can offer immediate support, information and support the person to get professional help.

The course
The course covered a lot… including Depression, Suicide, Self Harm, Anxiety disorders, Eating disorders, Bi polar and Phychosis. How these illnesses can manifest themselves, and how to help people who might have or be experiencing symptoms of them.

The course focused not on us giving advice about illnesses, but about us (if we were there in the absence of a mental health professional…):

Assessing the risk for suicide or self harm.
Listening non judgementally.
Giving reassurance and information.
Encouraging the person to get appropriate professional help.
Encouraging self help strategies.


These are the 5 basic steps to being a Mental Health First Aider, and they were so well drummed into us throughout the 2 days, that I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. 😉

And in the case of suicide, we were provided with 3 steps:

Current plan – are they considering suicide, and do they have a plan.
Previous – have they tried it before?
Reources – do they have the means to do it.

The course also went over:

The mental health continuum – how we’re all on an axis of mental health, and that mental health is fluid. We can go from maximal mental health, to minimal mental health (up and down) and from minimal to maximal mental health problems.

Someone may have maximal mental health problems and have a diagnosis, but the may be managing it and coping well with it, so their mental health well being may be maximal. They may manage and hide it well and you might not know anything about it.

We might all move from one quadrant to another with different things that happen to us in life. We all might be at risk from developing mental health symptoms, and there’s information and help out there on how we can cope or manage with these symptoms.

Attitudes and names for conditions and mental health – we looked at stigma and names for mental health. What was acceptable and what was not.

Frame of reference – we’re all a result of the things that have happened to us, gender, genes, our upbringing, family life, hobbies, education, work life, cultural influences, experiences, relationships. They help us to form our ‘window on the world’ and everyone’s window on the world is different. What might be normal for one person, might be odd to another. What might be stressful or upsetting for one, might be run of the mill for another.

Stress bucket – (a bit like my juggling of balls, where I juggle about 5-6 balls and when bother comes in sometimes I drop one) – the stress bucket is a bucket with a tap on it, which, with life events and within a persons frame of reference, stress can build up in the bucket.

Sometimes the stress can build so much that it overflows and causes problems, or the tap gets blocked (not getting a balance between everything, fun, social etc, letting off steam). Sometimes life happens and stress can prevent living life normally.

The Happiness Hour – I liked this one. Every day, we should take an hour to be happy. Exercise, read, socialise, wine, writing a blog, me time. If you can’t fit in an hour every day, then think of practical strategies to help you fit an hour in each day, or fit in an hour every 3-5 days.

– How to help someone with depression, anxiety or someone who is having a panic attack, or someone who is thinking of suicide.

What it’s like to hear voices – we did a very effective exercise where we talked to each other in groups of 2, then some of the others came behind us with rolled up bits of paper, and whispered odd sentences or words into our ears. It was very off putting and made you realise how distressing it must be for anyone experiencing phychosis.

After the course

I know I now feel a lot better informed on mental health, and how to help someone who might be experiencing mental ill health.

The trainer was very good, and managed to make some very sad or challenging subject matters be very interesting and informative. Well worth taking 2 days out to go on.

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