Why mental health first aid?
We all have mental health, which varies to some degree, just as we have varying physical health. Mental health conditions are common. In any given year, up to 1 in 4 of individuals in the UK may experience a common mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. Moreover, the majority of mental health conditions develop before the age of 24 years. Attention in national policy for the NHS (England) is increasingly focused on early identification and prevention of mental health conditions (e.g., Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, the recent publication of the NHS Long Term Plan). One proposed component of early identification and prevention includes mental health literacy, defined by Jorm (1997, p .182) as the “Knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention”.
Mental health first aid training
I recently completed the two-day Adult Mental Health First Aid training delivered by Mental Health First Aid England, which has enabled me to be described as a Mental Health First Aider (to learn more about the role, please click here). The training, first and foremost, focuses on improving individual knowledge (e.g., type of symptoms) of a range of common mental health conditions and is underpinned by the work of Kitchener and Jorm.
The common mental health conditions touched upon included depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, as well as personality disorders. Self-harm and substance abuse was also explored, as were crisis situations whereby an individual expressed suicidal intent. In improving our knowledge and having open dialogue, the training seeks to reduce stigma.
The scope of the training
Our role as Mental Health First Aiders is to offer non-judgemental support (complimenting existing services provided), as well as signposting (in-house, local and national services). Importantly, those that are mental health first aid trained are not qualified mental health professionals (e.g., psychiatrist), and are not a substitute for professional support. During the training we were provided with practical tools for supporting individuals – this centred around the acronym A.L.G.E.E.
A – approach, assess, assist
L – listen non-judgmentally
G – give support
E – encourage to seek appropriate professional help
E – encourage to seek further support
Being a Mental Health First Aider is principally about hope – for support, for recovery, for the reduction of mental health stigma. In addition, the training emphasises that you should not neglect your own mental health and wellbeing in supporting others.
Following the training, I am exploring ways in which my skillset can be incorporated into my place of work (a Higher Education Institution) and project (e.g., advertising – email signatures, posters etc.). It is important to be aware of what your workplace currently offers, and how you (and others) can complement that (utilise existing networks!). It is worth noting that many Higher Education Institutions hold ‘in-house’ training, and this is a useful option to improve your mental health awareness and knowledge of how you can support others (e.g., students, staff members). There are calls for Universities as a whole, and for supervisors in particular, to play a role in the early identification and prevention of mental health conditions in researchers, and having a degree of mental health literacy can facilitate this. Collectively, we can play our part.
Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss (Twitter: @DrRMoss), Research Associate on the PGR Wellbeing project at the University of Portsmouth (School of Education and Sociology).