Mental Health Awareness

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and, although this news is not hot off the press, since I did it in February/March, I thought I’d let you know I’ve qualified as a Mental Health First Aider. This course is run in many different countries (see MHFA International) but I did mine with MHFA England. My impression is it’s a franchise, so I suppose the quality of the teaching will depend to some extent on the instructor(s) you choose, but I struck lucky.

I’d been concerned it might be a box-ticking exercise, with heavily prescribed materials and dull, one-size-fits-all delivery, but it wasn’t. It was a thoughtful, supportive, sometimes challenging exploration of the different aspects of mental ill-health and how to help someone who is struggling.

Although I already knew a lot about depression, having lived through it myself, I knew almost nothing about other conditions and disorders and was glad to have them explained. I learnt a lot and, after being initially sceptical, soon came to believe it’s as useful to be trained in mental health first aid as it is in physical health first aid.

Have you read a book called The Bystander Effect, by Catherine Sanderson? It’s about what prevents people from helping others, even when those others are in mortal danger. One of the major findings is that most people are so afraid of appearing foolish or getting it wrong that they opt to do nothing, say nothing, rather than take a slight social risk. If a young man’s friends would rather let him die than call an ambulance, for fear of being being told they’d overreacted (a case described in the book), how much more difficult is it to address a colleague’s persistent low mood or slump in productivity?

The MHFA course gave me insight into warning signs that someone’s life is unravelling and confidence to talk to them about it and put them in touch with organisations that can offer professional help. It costs in the region of £300 but you get a lot of value for your money, including well designed reference materials. It’s open to everyone and assumes no prior knowledge. Despite my misgivings, I’d been wanting to do it for a couple of years, waiting till I had the money and the time simultaneously, and I’m so glad I seized that moment this year.

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