Well I am now officially a mental health first aider. And I have the certificate to prove it. Cool. But so what – what does it mean and could it be useful to you?
by Darren Caveney
For the first time since I set up my own consultancy five years ago I have invested in some training for me. It made a nice change to be trained instead of the trainer, to be honest. I decided to book onto a two-day mental health first aider training course. Why did I do it and would I recommend it? I thought it might be useful to capture a few thoughts whilst fresh in my mind.
Why this course?
A number of reasons, really.
Firstly, we have all been seeing the steady rise of stress and poor mental health in the comms and PR industry. And we can expect this upward graph to continue in the foreseeable future. It’s great to see the industry bodies beginning to take steps to provide more focus, information and support around mental ill health in comms and PR but we have a long, long way to go. We all need to do more in this area.
It’s one of the reasons Comms Unplugged was launched in 2017 because we felt there was a very important gap to fill here and so a cool event in a field in Dorset emerged but with a serious point: to give us more tools and greater understanding around health and wellbeing. I don’t think back then we realised how important the resultant community (largely on Whatspp groups, ironically) would be in building upon the event and supporting good mental health. It’s changed my thinking, for sure, and I have learned lots from Saranne Postans and the team at official sponsors, Fresh Air Fridays, plus many of the other Unpluggers.
Secondly, in my consultancy, training and mentoring role I have noticed that I am encountering more and more people who I sense may be struggling with poor mental health and I want to be better equipped to help if possible.
Finally, I want be a better support to my kids growing up and navigating the silly pressures we seem to be placing on them as a society, not least the school exam factories we are forcing them through. Mental health issues in young people was a recurring theme on the course and so even a tiny improvement in my understanding of issues such as depression, eating disorders and self-harm could be a benefit to me, and them.
What did I learn?
Too much to get into a short blog post but here are 10 lessons, thoughts and observations…
1. The stats. We know that mental health issues affect 1 in 4 of us. That number increases in some specific groups, when you delve into individual conditions, and so it’s important to recognise that these specific groups may need extra support in and out of work.
2. We all have mental health. Related conditions can affect any of us and so we should all practice wellbeing in our daily lives.
3. We are never really taught to listen. It’s true isn’t it? How many of your problem relationships are because people don’t listen to you? The active listening exercises we ran through were really useful in assessing our own listening skills.
4. The 5 steps to wellbeing – which underpin Comms Unplugged – are important and a useful way of guiding our own mental health: Connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give.
5. The stress container model is a simple little way of getting everything in your head into a container, and to understand which things you can remove via the tap at the bottom, and which things which are overflowing and will need a coping strategy.
6. ALGEE are the five basic steps to a mental health first aid action plan: Approach the person, 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
7. Mindfulness, whilst useful in many areas of life, isn’t necessarily recommended for people experiencing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
8. Psychosis. I realised that I wasn’t fully clear on what this is. It is a term used to describe a mental health issue in which a person experiences changes in thinking, perception, mood and behaviour and which can disrupt their life. Think hallucinations and delusions. An episode of psychosis lasting longer than six-months is schizophrenia, and this is more common in men.
9. Cards against anxiety is a card game developed by a mental health doctor and may be worth a look at.
10. Importantly, the role of a mental health first aider is not to necessarily diagnose the exact condition but to follow ALGEE as an approach to getting help and support to an individual experiencing a mental health issue.
Would I recommend this course?
Yes, in a word. I think it’s really reasonably priced, which was important to me and will be to others.
In the post-training survey I scored myself 4 out of 10 for being confident to give support in this area before the course, and 8 out of 10 afterwards. So I have doubled my confidence levels. Getting to 9 and 10 will require me to use some of these skills practically to see if I can better support others.
Interestingly, the very next day after the course a couple of situations arose in my personal life which I felt myself applying some of the course learning to. And that’s the thing – these skills aren’t confined to the workplace; they are actually life skills. And blimey, we all need more of those.
Almost half a million people in the UK are now trained as mental health first aiders, and the target is to get to 1 in 10 of the population receiving this training.
I did the Mental Health First Aid accredited course. I booked via Workful, who run courses in the Midlands and Devon and it cost me £200 + vat.
There’s more about Mental Health First Aid here mhfaengland.org
And follow them on Twitter at @MHFAEngland
Similar courses are run in Scotland and Wales too.
Let me know if you go to one and please share your feedback and learning with the @comms2point0 community.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd