Introducing Mental Health First Aid

Introducing Mental Health First Aid

Mental health is a growing problem in the UK.

  • Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide
  • Major depression is thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide and ischemic heart disease
  • It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem

It is also closely connected to societal issues:

  • Poor physical health
  • Relationships issues
  • Education attainment levels
  • Employability

If you are reading this blog, you have an interest in first aid. As you know, first aid focuses on offering initial support in a crisis until professional help is received, or is appropriate.

What if we could apply this to mental health, and train mental first aiders to offer initial support?

Knowing some basic mental health first aid means:

  • You can recognize the signs of ill mental health when they first develop
  • Direct those with those signs to the help they need earlier
  • It also helps to remove mental health stigma.

Introducing Mental Health First Aid (MFHA)

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) was first developed in Australia by Betty Kitchener and her husband Anthony Jorm.

Like most brilliant ideas it came about in a very ordinary way.

Betty and Tony were walking their dog one day when they realized that there was no mental health equivalent of physical first aid.

This germ of an idea led to an internationally recognized program of simple steps that can be used to help a person in distress.

The course is available in Bermuda, Cambodia, Canada, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Japan, Malta, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, United States and Wales) By 2016, 1.7 million people had been trained in mental health first aid worldwide.

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a training course which teaches people how to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue.

Mental Health First Aid is an initial response to distress and all participants on the course understand that this help is given only until other suitable or professional help can be found

Here are just a few:

  • A person who was considering suicide was helped and given time to reconsider. Afterwards they knew that they didn’t really want to die.
  • Someone with severe depression was helped to think about recovery and to find ways to help herself.
  • Participants on the courses have reported that their own mental health has improved after the course
  • After the training people say that they feel more confident about approaching a person who appears distressed.

We know that:

  • When we offer to help kindly and without judging or talking down to a person they often feel relieved and comforted.
  • When we listen without judging and without immediately trying to fix problems a person will often talk through the crisis and feel calmer and more able to get appropriate help.
  • When we understand the nature of mental health problems they are not so frightening.

You too can learn how to:

  • help in a crisis such as a panic attack or suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • ask questions that will help the person
  • listen without judgment and give the person space to talk about how they feel
  • give relevant information about help that is available.

Mental Health Training in Scotland (SMHFA)

Such was the enthusiastic response to the Australian course that the formerly named Scottish Executive funded the development of a Scottish course based on MHFA principles.

In 2004 Scottish materials were developed and the National Training Team was commissioned to begin training instructors from all over Scotland.

The SMHFA course takes 12 hours to complete. It can be presented in a range of formats to suit different groups. The course must be presented by a qualified SMHFA instructor and quality is continuously monitored by NHS Health Scotland.

The following is a brief outline of what is covered on the course:

  • guidance on being a Mental Health First Aider
  • attitudes to mental health issues
  • equalities
  • the recovery message
  • the impact of alcohol and drugs on mental health
  • introduction to suicide intervention
  • listening skills
  • understanding depression
  • how to offer first aid to someone experiencing depression
  • understanding anxiety
  • how to offer first aid to someone experiencing anxiety
  • understanding psychosis
  • how to offer first aid to someone experiencing a psychotic episode.

The course does not train people to be mental health workers. It offers basic general information about mental health problems. The knowledge presented and understanding developed in the course helps to remove stigma and fear and to give confidence in approaching a person in distress.

Where can Mental Health First Aid be applied?

Mental Health First Aid skills can be applied anytime, anywhere, and to anyone in need.

Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace

Recently published results of the UK Workplace Wellbeing Study named mental health in the workplace as the second biggest challenge facing employers in the next five years, with respondents stating that over a quarter (26 percent) of workplace absences were due to mental ill health.

Action is being taken by employers, as HR professionals are required to assist employees with mental health conditions under the Equality Act 2010. However, low levels of disclosure continue to be a barrier to support.

Research from Employee Benefits has highlighted the growing importance of mental health support to employers. More than a quarter (26%) of respondents currently offered Mental Health First Aid training to staff, with a further 10% planning to introduce the training in future.

The research found that the popularity of counselling or employee assistance programmes (EAPs) is on the rise. In 2004, just 30% of survey respondents offered EAPs to staff – but in 2017, 70% of businesses now offered counselling or EAPs for employees. This growth follows increasing awareness of stress and mental wellbeing, and the impact of mental ill health on the workplace.

Mental Health First Aid in Academia

Mental health is a key issue in academia, for student and staff alike.

It is estimated that 75% of all mental health issues develop by age 24 meaning that university years coincide with the peak age of onset.

Recent data published by The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has also shown a 210% increase over five years in the number of students with mental health issues leaving courses early,prompting calls for universities to ensure appropriate provisions are in place.

A poll of over 1,000 students by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that, although eight out of 10 had experienced mental health issues over a year, less than half had sought support.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association recently found that mental ill health accounts for around 20% of days lost for university employees, Burnout and stress are common from PhD students to vice-chancellors and issues such as isolation, lack of support, long hours and a normalized culture of overwork.

Mental Health First Aid in Government

After the May elections the Scottish government made the significant decision to appoint its first dedicated Minister for Mental Health, Maureen Watt.

Minister Watt has said that her focus will largely look at prevention and early intervention of mental ill health:

By addressing mental health problems as early as possible, we can prevent people from becoming more distressed, and improve access to services when needed by reducing pressure on the NHS”.

Scotland is also in the process of developing a new 10 year mental health strategy. We hope that next year will bring a comprehensive public mental health strategy for Scotland with a strong prevention focus.

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