Last week I attended our first Mental Health First Aid course. As it’s not a course I’ve participated in myself I decided to attend along with the other education staff in our area who’d booked on the course. It was such an amazing few days I wanted to write a blog review and maybe give some of my take away lessons too.
Mental Health is such a huge area and something that seems to be in our everyday life. Whether you feel anxiety yourself, suffer with depression, have a family member with suicidal thoughts or self-harming, we all know someone who struggles with their mental health. What’s interesting is getting past the stigma that seems to come with it. Admitting you are challenged by your emotions and thoughts is a hard thing to do, and often when we pluck up the courage to say something it’s met with an inappropriate, judgemental response.
We are all on the mental health continuum, whether we would consider that we have good mental health right now, know that we have some difficulties and/or have a diagnosis. It can be ever changing too. We may not suffer with depression now but who’s to say what might happen in the future?
This two-day course was the Youth version of the Mental Health First Aid so concentrated on children and youth. As we were mainly educators in the room we focused on the issues at school and college too. Some of us (BraveHeart trainers) are adopters so this ever-present roller coaster of mental health is something we are accustomed to.
I must admit that even though I consider myself to be knowledgeable and experienced in early developmental trauma, which of course can impact a child’s mental health, I was unprepared for the intensity of the topics we covered. Anxiety, depression, self harm and eating disorders, suicide and psychosis – not light reading and of course more disturbing when applied to the children and young people we live or work with.
Lisa, the trainer is very experienced in the area of mental health having worked in the field for a number of years and now a trained psychotherapist. Her insight into the youth mental health was invaluable. The material provided by Mental Health First Aid England is excellent too with lots of information to take away and use as reference in the future.
So what were the few take away points I can give you? Some of these were explicit on the course, some are my own thoughts and feelings as a result of attending.
- Relationships are key above all else – the way we are with the children and young people around us is crucial. Whether we can answer the all important questions they have is second to us actually being available and present with them. They need to know that we care and will listen to them. The time we spend with them could make all the difference to the outcome of their mental health at that moment in time.
- Ask the questions – don’t be afraid to ask them what is going on. Sometimes we are frightened to ask the question in case it makes them feel worse or gives them ideas. If they have suicidal thoughts then they already have those thoughts. Asking them direct questions will allow them to feel that they have been heard and also for you to decide what to do next.
- Pay attention to the basics – the hygiene factors of sleep, food, exercise all need to be addressed for good mental health. Apparently the average prisoner spends more time outside than our 10 year olds! I can see this with my boys especially who spend lots of time on screens. Going outside and ‘playing’ is critical for good all round health.
- There has to be hope – I found this whole subject quite saddening. Thinking that there’s all these children and young people struggling and some even taking their own lives, is very difficult to accept. It seems when we look at all our public services currently that there’s a lack of resources, funding, support – just a place to get some help of some kind. There has to be some hope surely?! This is something I don’t have an answer too specifically but I am holding out for hope in my children’s lives.
- We have to pay attention to our own mental health – this is the big one for me. I’ve been reminded constantly of this through training schools on Developmental Trauma – we are not good at looking after ourselves, whether you are an educator or parent/carer I can guarantee that your own mental fitness will be the last thing of your list. We need to change this. As the old saying goes – you have to put on the oxygen mask first before you can help a child with theirs.
If you are considering doing this Mental Health First Aid course, I would say – do it! It is brilliant and will not only give you more insight into the children and young people you work or live with, but will help with your own experiences too.
We will be providing opportunities around the country to attend this two-day course, also a one-day toolkit course is available with strategies to help and support in this area. If you want to know more just give us a call.