I’ve previously attended training in first aid, equipping me to respond should somebody need help in an emergency and I’ve been increasingly interested in the topic of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) as I’ve heard more talk about it. So, I’ve recently attended a MHFA England course run by Jon Bartlett (Project Libero), a friend and associate, who is an expert by experience in the area of mental health.
The MHFA course is designed to help you recognise the symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help, and guide a person towards appropriate professional help. It has been an area of limited knowledge for me and I felt totally out of my depth when I saw the course agenda (1: What is mental health? 2: Depression and suicide 3: Anxiety disorders 4: Psychosis).
The course lasted two days and was a real eye-opener for me. We explored the inappropriate use of language (describing somebody as ‘a bit OCD’ or Schizo), looked at how common mental health problems are (one in four people will experience some form of mental health problem each year and nearly twice as many people die as a result of suicide each year as die on UK roads), before digging deeper into different types of mental health problem. Over the two days, we covered depression, suicide, anxiety and panic disorders (including panic attacks), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), self-harm, eating disorders, psychosis (including schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder) amongst other things.
As we explored each condition in turn, I found myself going on the same journey each time; I started by simply feeling really sorry for people struggling in that way whilst at the same time unable to even begin to understand what is going on. As we explored a bit deeper, I started to get some insights into what was going on for people and started to feel better equipped to have a conversation with them. It reminded me of an experience years ago when I studied as an interpreter for deaf-blind people; over the space of a few weeks we spent time being guided around a public building whilst wearing a blindfold and trying to make our way around whilst wearing special glasses that reproduced certain eyesight problems. That experience started to give me an insight into what was going on for people living with different conditions that I had no experience of. And it felt much the same for MHFA; Without giving too much away, there were constant insights into what life can be like for people and one exercise in particular that helped us ‘to walk a mile in somebody’s shoes’ and gain real insight. MHFA has changed my perception; rather then simply feeling sorry for people (alongside a sense of confusion at their behaviour), I’ve started to gain some insights into what might be going on for them.
Unsurprisingly, the two days hasn’t turned me into an expert on mental health but it has given me greater insight and equipped me to provide initial help to people struggling. In the same way that all companies have designated First Aiders, I think it would be great if all companies had suitably trained Mental Health First Aiders and I would highly recommend both this course and Jon.
To provide a simple example of what I mean about insight, many of us know people who live with depression and I have heard people describe it as ‘living with a black dog’. These two videos from W.H.O. give some insights into what it can be like to live with depression (and to live with somebody who lives with depression).
A bit of insight and understanding goes a long way.