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Recommended: The Mental Health First Aid course

I’d been saving up for the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course since finding out about it earlier this year. A friend who works for the local library service let me know that it was available online via https://www.inspireculture.org.uk/ for only £25, so I jumped at the chance!

Rather than two full days of face to face training, it was delivered via Zoom over six evenings across three weeks. There was a lot to cover, with some of it being emotionally taxing, and the course could easily be twice as long in my opinion. Our instructor Faye was fantastic, and handled the online side of things with apparent ease, despite a range of ages and technical abilities within the class. There was a separate online learning area for our homework, featuring quizzes and videos. We received a physical (very comprehensive!) course handbook and workbook too.

Course Outline

In our first session we learned how our language around mental health might affect people experiencing mental health issues, impact their perception of the issue and even affect their likelihood of accessing the help they need. Our homework covered relevant laws around mental health and how our own frame of reference affects our helping others. There are definite parallels here with counselling training – not giving advice and keeping our own ‘stuff’ out of the conversation so we can better help others.

From the second session onwards, we had short ‘check ins’ to encourage us to be present in the class, important when we’ve been to work or had other things on our minds. We learned about the ‘mental health continuum’ with the two axes of diganosis and wellbeing, and the concept of a ‘stress container’. Our containers are different sizes and emptied or filled up by different things, so being aware of this can help us and others to better manage stress. I learned about “Stress signatures” too; thoughts, feelings or behaviours that show that I’m under stress.

Session three covered depression and signs that it might be an issue, and moved on to suicide. The ALGEE model was introduced as a way of approaching, listening and offering help to people experiencing mental health issues. The non-judgemental listening skills I learned on my counselling training were mirrored here – keeping in the helpee’s frame of reference and not offering advice. Asking outright if a person is considering suicide was part of this model, moving into helping them stay safe and access professional help. Our homework included an hour of self care!

Session four wrapped up the suicide case studies and we moved on to anxiety disorders, including panic attacks, generalised anxiety disorder and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We learned some techniques to counteract anxiety disorders for ourselves and others we might offer help to. Inspire Culture provided a mental health first aider during the course sessions in case we found any of the content or activities upsetting, which I really appreciated.

Session five covered more anxiety first aid, and we split into smaller groups to practice listening skills. This reminded me of the counselling skills training again and despite some technical issues we had a productive practice. There was some discussion around whether breathing exercises are good or bad for anxiety related issues, with research proving inconclusive at this point. We moved on to self harm, with a case study exercise. This raised issues around gender, age and culture for me, which the tutor gave some great pointers on.

Session six gave us more time on the self harm case studies and we moved on to discuss Psychosis. Early intervention is vital for Psychosis and this reminded me of a friend of a friend behaving increasingly oddly a few years back. Looking back on that, he was possibly experiencing some kind of Psychosis and I wish I’d had this MHFA knowledge to be able to help him.

The course ended quite quickly as there was so much to cover, and I would have been happy to continue as I felt we were gelling nicely as a group and had lots left to learn!

My MHFA Takeaways

Despite having a Psychology degree and counselling skills training, the first session flagged up a few points about the language I use to talk about mental health, which I am now more aware of.

The suicide prevention part was a great recap and agreed with many things I learned during the Livingworks ASIST course. I feel more confident asking people about suicide now as I have knowledge of what to do after asking that question.

A close friend has been grappling with an eating disorder lately. After talking things through without offering advice and sending him some information from the manual, he has now secured professional help and started his recovery. His heartfelt thanks and seeing his physical condition improve had great impact on me, and was a testament to how effective the MHFA skills are.