Mental Health — All the support is needed.

I read the Voices article in the Independent by Dr Jay Watts “The mental health first aid programme is a pet project — if the NHS services were properly funded in the first place, it wouldn’t be needed” — and as a previous NHS mental health patient, a practising Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) and as a MHFA Trainer I felt the need to respond.

I am in complete agreement with Dr Watts that the lack of funding in the NHS is completely failing the public, that reaching out to seek the right support is a game of chance depending on where you live and the service available to you. I have been on the receiving end of that service and in my case I was extremely lucky to get the right help quickly. However, I know many friends who have not been so lucky, and have read shocking reports where people are sent hundreds of miles away from family to get professional help.

It seems that the world we live in now, there are more of us who are overwhelmed with life and what it throws at us, whether that be by circumstances we find ourselves in or by our environment we are living within. I believe this is where MHFA training helps individuals who are dealing with those pressures. It gives someone the chance to perhaps open-up and realise you can talk to someone about what’s happening in your life without the judgement or approval of those around us. It helps to stop the pressure from building up inside your head and if necessary know where to start seeking professional guidance or support. In many cases, it is simply encouraging the individual to see how they can support their own wellbeing.

MHFA has never been about diagnosing individuals and the two-day training touches on some of the mental health conditions such as eating disorders, psychosis and depression. The focus of the training is to provide an on hand solution to help during a crisis, and having the confidence to be able to assist an individual just as you would be as a physical first aider. I do fully understand anyone who is suffering with mental anguish will be effected deeply and will encompass wide ranging problems, but surely that is no different to someone who is in pain from a chronic or a serious illness who may require emergency support?

There is nothing big brother about MHFA in the workplace. In my personal circumstance, perhaps if those around me had spotted or had the confidence to speak up about the subtle changes in my behaviour, to ask if I was ok, it would have proved a different outcome. A conversation early on may stop that individual building to the point where everything has got too be a bit too much, they feel alone and without the strength to go on.

Since working as a MHFA I have had lots of feedback from those who feel they have greatly benefited from the service. That it was a gentle stepping stone to get the professional support they needed. I’ve accompanied an individual to their GP who didn’t want to go into the waiting room alone, been with someone who is having a psychotic episode, and been there as a ‘listening service’ for many people. MHFA is a very well-intentioned service, it has never been there to substitute from the professionals, it is there to act as first aid and can add comfort of support in a world that often feels isolating and alone.

I really do hope our attitudes to mental health are changing, but without any education or training how can the public really care and understand; to lobby Government or to shout about the fact that the reality of seeking help from the NHS is so different today and so much more needs to be done? I believe the MHFA programme is a step in the right direction.

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