Becoming a Mental Health First Aider

When I first discovered Mental Health First Aid England and the good work they were doing, I felt relief that the stigma around mental health was being actively broken down. I was determined to become a Mental Health First Aider and trainer myself. Why? The why is simple, I experienced high anxiety and post-natal depression in the workplace after having my son, through this experience I had felt lonely, ashamed, worthless and trapped in a dark place I didn't know how to get out of, in an environment very different from how it is now. In an environment very different from how it is now, in which mental health was not ever discussed and employee wellbeing consisted of a fruit bowl in reception!


We are all responsible for our own wellbeing but I believe if there had been someone such as a trained Mental Health First Aider on-site at that time, I would have felt more confident to reach out and seek help, knowing that person was trained to listen to me in a non-judgemental way, with an empathetic ear. It would have been a huge relief to feel supported and would have helped me on my path to recovery and back to performing at my best much sooner.


Mental Health First Aiders are not there to diagnose, counsel or prescribe but simply act as a frontline support until professional help is sought. Talking about mental health and in particular, talking about suicide, can be a really daunting prospect but having those conversations can be life saving. Early intervention is absolutely key for preventing a mental health (or physical) situation from getting worse and for promoting a good recovery. As we spend most of our adult working life in the workplace, there are a lot of opportunities for those all important conversations to happen there, but what does becoming a Mental Health First Aider involve?


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Getting Started


First, aspiring Mental Health First Aiders must think deeply about their reasons for becoming one and if they have the time to support someone in need. Following that, a comprehensive training course must be completed which is usually over two full days or four 1/2 day sessions. During the course, learning takes place through thought-provoking discussions, team activities, videos, reading, case studies and online learning modules. Great insight is given into a wide range of mental health conditions including, stress, anxiety, depression, suicide, eating disorders, self-harm and psychosis, looking at the prevalence, signs and symptoms of each and how to assess for any crisis and assist with first aid in any situation. On completion of the course, which is accredited by the Royal Society for Public Health, learners become fully qualified Mental Health First Aiders, a qualification which is valid for three years and is a transferable skill.


What does the role involve?


The role of a Mental Health First Aiders is:

  • Aiming to preserve life, prevent further harm and promote good recovery.

  • Having an understanding of mental ill health to identify signs and symptoms for a range of mental health conditions.

  • Adhering to workplace policies and procedures on how MHFA is implemented in the workplace and remaining safe at all times.

  • Following the first aid action plan to assess and assist with any crisis and provide Mental Health First Aid

  • Listening and communicating in a non-judgemental way during supportive conversations using the Mental Health First Aid action plan.

  • Signposting people to professional help, recognising their role as a Mental Health First Aider does not replace the need for ongoing support.

  • Reduce stigma and discrimination by raising awareness of mental health issues in the workplace and community.

  • Being more aware of their own mental health and taking appropriate self-care.

Is mental health first aid effective?


In November 2018, the University of Nottingham and the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) published the results of the Mental Health First Aid in the workplace (MENTOR) study. In the study, researchers surveyed 139 employees from 81 organisations across 20 industries in the private, public and third sectors throughout England. They asked staff what had changed in the workplace as a result of MHFA England training. I think you will agree the stats are very encouraging?

88% reported an increase in confidence 91% said they had more understanding of mental health 87% said more conversations were happening at work

Source: https://www.iosh.com/MHFAworkplace


From a Mental Health First Aider's Perspective


When someone first told me they were contemplating suicide, my mind scrambled, my heart thumped, my mouth dried up and I felt sick. For a moment, I was completely discombobulated, but then I remembered my training and I brought the five point action plan to mind and the CPR method for talking about suicide. That framework helped me to gather my mind and focus on each point, guiding me as to what to say next as well as my teacher's voice reminding me, 'it's more important to be genuine and empathetic than saying exactly the right thing.' That calmed me down, a lot, and I was able to determine that this person was having more than suicidal thoughts, they had a plan and although they didn't feel in immediate danger of carrying that plan out, I was able to get them in touch with their crisis team. I was completely drained afterwards and could see why MHFA England emphasise the importance of self-care for their First Aiders. Sadly, I have spoken to many people in my role as a First Aider and as an Instructor member for MHFA England, who are feeling suicidal or are feeling lost within their poor mental health. However, it is always warming to see the effect of simply lending an ear and showing you care to someone who is suffering and I hope in some small way I have empowered them to take the next steps to recovery.


Below, read what one of the MHFA's that I trained earlier this year has to say:


I haven't always been able to chat to people about mental health, I now have the confidence to be able to do this. Being a mental health first aider isn’t just about giving advice, it’s about being a good listener and I have been doing this a lot, especially over the last few months. I think people are grateful for that and feel better when they have got their frustrations out. This is a great achievement for me because people can confide in me. I feel that work has been very good at continuously supporting the importance of mental health which makes me feel more comfortable and confident with being a mental health first aider, in the workplace and community. Natasha Doughty - MHFA, Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead

You don't need to be medic to become a Mental Health First Aider, just an empathetic human being. If you want to be a part of the mental health revolution or get your organisation involved, please do get in touch.


If you are keen to find out more, please get in touch. We offer a range of mental health training options either for an individual organisation or we also run open courses that anyone can join. Click here to see availability of our next open course.

Best wishes, Tricia



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