Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Course Review

The concept of training people as Mental Health First Aiders was created in Australia in 2001, by Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm. Since 2007, it has been adopted and adapted across the world to meet the diverse needs of an ever-growing number of people who know that they really do need MHFA skills. I attended a two-day course, delivered by My Life Is My Business in May 2018. The purpose of the course is to recognise signs and symptoms of common mental health conditions and equip us with the knowledge, skills and confidence to act as the first point of contact for a someone experiencing mental health issues or mental illness.

Delegates in my group, were from industries such as the arts, construction, human resources and social work. I learned that those from the construction industry had been offered the course by their employer as, construction workers in England are more likely to die by suicide than by an accident on a construction site. Others said their organisations offer the MHFA training because they were excellent at administering physical first aid but needed to improve on mental health first aid.

Over the two days, we learned about the MHFA acronym ALGEE and how to use it as a way of supporting people who may need support with looking after their mental health. The 5 steps of ALGEE are as follows:

  • Approach, assess and assist with any crisis
  • Listen and communicate non-judgementally
  • Give support and information
  • Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
  • Encourage other supports

Listening non-judgmentally

The key eye-opener on the course for me was learning how to listen non-judgementally. This skill is very different from having a regular conversation with someone as you really need to keep your judgements to yourself and make sure that the conversation focuses on the person you are listening to. In a learning exercise where someone was describing a situation which made them feel anxious. When helping someone in distress, I like many others would want to jump in to the conversation and offer solutions. I learnt that this is not the way to support someone as it could stop someone from talking further or sharing their feelings in the future. I now understand that summarising what I’ve heard or simply reflecting back to the person what I’ve heard is a good way of demonstrating non-judgemental listening.

We spent a lot of time discussing stigma and discrimination and the negative impact that these can have on someone accessing support rather than withdrawing and/or refusing support. We certainly to have a lot of negative words and phrases associated with mental illness.

Should dentists signpost potential mental health conditions?

Another interesting discussion was on the involvement of non-mental health professionals. For example, someone had been grinding their teeth at night, they had no idea that they were doing this but their dentist noticed this in a routine check-up. The dentist told their patient that they may be stressed. When the patient spoke to their partner, they agreed. It turns out that the stress of a demanding job was having an impact on them. They then went to get professional help from their GP. Leave a comment below and tell us if you think other professionals should signpost people who may need mental health support.

When we learned about mental health first aid for depression and suicide, it was extremely emotional for me because of my experience of losing a friend to suicide. However, I took from this, the ability to know how to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal. What a great skill to have. I wish I’d learnt about this at school or university.

Recognising the signs of mental ill health

This course taught us about recognising the signs of mental health illnesses, such as hopelessness, social isolation and many more signs. We also spoke about the importance of exercise and looking after yourself. There were a number of holistic ways, that you can improve your mental wellbeing, such as acupressure and relaxation techniques, like yoga.

In sum, the Mental Health First Aid course was an eye-opener. I learned how to listen non-judgementally, recognise signs of mental health, and how to approach someone to ask if they are having suicidal thoughts. The course reminded us of the value of exercise in maintaining mental well-being. If you know someone who is showing signs of not being themselves, now is a good time to ask them how they are feeling. Listen objectively to their response and offer help and support.

There are a series of open courses that you can book on to with My Life is My Business. Alternatively, My Life is My Business deliver in-house courses to organisations across England. You can find more information and book here.

Does your workplace have a strategy for delivering mental health first aid? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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