Darren’s take on Mental Health First Aid England’s online course

This post was written by Darren, our Operations Manager.

Occasionally, having to ‘step in’ when not originally planned can put extra strain in our already busy calendars. However, sometimes we can experience something life changing.   

I have recently completed a remote course from Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA England).  The course was introduced to Roz, our CEO, by Inspire SW, but unfortunately, she was unable to attend.  This meant that as Securious’ H&S representative, I had the privilege of building on my own awareness and understanding, in order to support our staff.  Like physical first aid courses, the importance of what is taught goes far beyond the workplace and is a ‘life lesson’ useful in our personal relationships, friendships and daily lives.  

Mental health is sometimes an area hard to discuss and many choose to avoid the subject, but the impact it has on our everyday lives should not be underestimated.

Belinda Westwood, who delivered the session, told us:

“Did you know that work-related stress, anxiety or depression accounts for over half of all working days lost due to ill health in Great Britain (a total of 15.4 million working days in 2017/18).  Mental ill health costs UK employers more than £34.9 billion each year.  More than 6,000 people die by suicide each year in the UK.”

Belinda coordinated the course, delivering four sessions over a two-week period.  Six of us attended from various locations and businesses, with Belinda providing her experience and knowledge to the sessions.  This was especially useful in the workshop debriefs scheduled throughout the two weeks, and Belinda’s supportive approach to what can be a heavy and emotional subject at times was evident.   Being aware and looking after ourselves was one of the first lessons in the course.   

According to Belinda: 

“MHFA is a global community that uses evidence-based training to increase mental health literacy.  Mental Health First Aiders are equipped to recognise the symptoms of mental ill health, provide initial help and guide a person towards appropriate professional help.”

The course material went far beyond what I was expecting and provided all of us with the awareness, tools of support and confidence that can make a real difference A hard copy manual as well as online material, video case studies, posters for raising awareness and line manger resources all helped in advancing knowledge.  

One of the biggest takeaways from the learning was the skill of non-judgemental listening and how important this is in applying ‘ALGEE’: 

  • Approach, assess, assist 
  • Listen & communicate non-judgmentally 
  • Give support & information 
  • Encourage appropriate professional help 
  • Encourage other supports 

We may all think that we are all capable of listening. However, the course really raised awareness of this skill and how our own life experiences may easily affect our frame of reference on what is a natural human element of communication.  When responding or in conversation, important emphasis was also placed on acceptable language and consideration of words or phrases in common use such as ‘committed’ or ‘suffering’, and the negative impacts these words bring when describing mental ill health. 

After applying ‘ALGEE to various case studies and along with the different activities supporting the workshops, we all realised that having a pneumonic helped structure our approach as mental health first aiders, just as the ‘DRS ABC’ does in physical first aid.   

We may all use the term ‘stress’ on an ever more increasing frequency, but mental health is far more important than we sometimes give credit.  After this course, I feel awareness of mental health illness and well-being needs to be on the agenda of all discussions in the work environment and home. 

Belinda told us: 

“Mental illness is the second-largest source of burden of disease in England.  Disease burden is a term used to describe the impact of a disease in a whole society.  It is a measurement that combines:-

  • Prevalence of an illness (i.e. how common it is)
  • Morbidity of an illness (i.e. how much disability it causes)
  • Mortality of an illness (i.e. how many people die early because of having the illness)

This is something to bear in mind, when the question “Why Mental Health First Aid?” comes up.  The facts are that

  • Mental health issues are common
  • We are not well informed about mental health or mental ill health
  • We may lack the insight to realise that we need help or that help is available
  • The majority of us don’t know how to respond when someone approach us or when we can see they are not okay”

With COVID-19, additional pressures being experienced by everyone from your staff, family, friends (and you), there really is no time like the present to implement this into your business or personal life working towards the MHFA England goal of training ‘1 in 10’ people to become Mental Health First Aiders. 

The benefit to your business in fulfilling H&S responsibilities to staff or reducing days lost is one aspect however, having someone trained by MHFA England that can effectively respond in crisis may be life changing and that is the most important reason of all.  

If you’re interested in MHFA England’s remote courses, head to their website for more info.