Mental Health First Aid at PDMS
By Helen Ward, Service Team Manager
Towards the end of 2019 PDMS decided to invest in training some of our team as Mental Health First Aiders. Working in IT can be stressful and we wanted to add to the support available through the more formal HR and management channels for anyone experiencing issues with their mental health. At that time we could not have envisaged what was heading for us in 2020 and the impact it would have on so many people’s mental health.
What is Mental Health First Aid?
The mental health first aiders at PDMS are trained by MHFA England. Their definition of mental health first aid is ‘the help offered to a person developing a mental health issue, experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health issue, or in a mental health crisis1’.
Their training gives mental health first aiders the skills to listen to and communicate with people experiencing mental health issues, provide support and information for them (lots of it sourced from the huge handbook of resources provided by MHFA England), to encourage them to get professional support and support from other sources, such as their family and friends.
We aren’t healthcare professionals, just trained and reasonably well-informed individuals who care about people and want to be there for people when they are needed.
What has being a Mental Health First Aider been like in 2020?
- It hasn’t all been about people suffering from a recognisable or diagnosed mental health issue. A lot of the conversations this year have been about people having someone to share their stress and anxiety within a safe, and confidential environment, sometimes just needing to be able to tell someone else how they are feeling.
- The impact of working from home hasn’t always been negative. Some people, for whom the office environment is a stressful place, have found working from home and communicating remotely has helped them.
- It isn’t always about the person themselves. Some of our conversations have been about supporting people with family members who are suffering.
- It isn’t a one-off conversation. Especially in times when there may be long waits for professional help, it has been important to be able to support people in that waiting time and just to be available to provide a listening ear whenever it is needed.
- It can be stressful for the mental health first aider. Supporting people through difficult times is not always easy. It is very important to look after your own mental health. As in so many aspects of life, if you don’t care for yourself you can’t care for someone else. The PDMS mental health first aiders have regular catch-up and de-stressing sessions where we can share our own issues and stresses (without sharing any of the details of the people we have been talking to) and this really helps us to keep things in perspective.
Could you be a Mental Health First Aider?
Yes, you could. If you care about mental health and are interested in helping people, then this could be something you could do.
Investigate the useful information websites listed below for details of courses and other resources.
The mental health first aid course is challenging, but I think it is one of the best and most useful courses I have ever attended.
If you don’t want to be a mental health first aider there are also awareness courses for individuals and line managers, that will help you understand mental health issues in your team or among your friends and family and to provide support for them.
Useful Sources of Information
MHFA England – lots of free, downloadable information and resources and details of everyone providing their certified training.
Zero Suicide Alliance - a collaboration of National Health Service trusts, charities, businesses, and individuals who are all committed to suicide prevention in the UK and beyond. They have a series of short and very informative courses to help you recognise if someone is at risk of suicide and to help them.
1 Adult MHFA Manual © 2016 MHFA England