Mental Health First Aid – Learn How to Help Someone Experiencing a Mental Health Problem

As a newly qualified therapist back in 2004, one area where I knew I definitely needed to know more was mental illness. I wanted to be better informed about the different common types of mental ill-health; to be able to recognise their symptoms in a client, and know what to do. This, I reasoned, would give me a better understanding of clients with a past history of mental health problems – whatever their current reason for consulting me – and would also equip me to cope if I encountered someone in serious crisis. I had heard of clients experiencing a psychotic episode during therapy : as a responsible practitioner, what should I do in that situation? I honestly wasn’t sure.

Then, late in 2005, I heard a radio discussion about Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a new Scottish NHS initiative which seemed to offer what I wanted in an intensive 12-hour course. Researching further, I discovered it had originated in Australia, and that Scotland was one of a growing number of countries to adopt it. It covered a wide range of mental health problems, was aimed at ordinary people not doctors, and taught the diagnosis, support and signposting skills I wanted. Bingo! I hurried to book a place – only to discover that I couldn’t. Scottish residents only; no exceptions. Until the English NHS adopted the scheme, which they might do sometime (or not), I couldn’t take the course. It was infuriating – I was happy to pay; I just wanted the training.

I got it thanks to the support of colleagues, many from the APHP. I found an accredited Scottish trainer prepared to travel, and a letter to other therapists attracted sufficient interest to make a course viable if we shared the costs, so I hosted a course at a local hotel in March 2006. I remain truly grateful to those who responded to an enquiry from an obscure colleague and joined me for what turned out to be a fantastic two days of training, networking and chat, and also to the APHP for accepting the course as a credit towards our CPD requirement. Afterwards, MHFA manual in the bookshelf and NHS Scotland certificate proudly on the wall, I went back to my practice with increased confidence and understanding about mental health issues.

Now, two years on, the English NHS has indeed launched a version of MHFA. It’s based very closely on the Scottish model, with input from Lewes and Wealden MIND and from NIMHE (the National Institute for Mental Health in England), and is now being rolled out throughout the country. It teaches the same theory, techniques and strategies as the Scottish version, but instead of NHS Scotland, the accrediting body is the Care Services Improvement Partnership, commissioned by the Department of Health. Successful participants receive a certificate issued centrally by CSIP and a Mental Health First Aid (England) manual. Like its counterparts elsewhere, the English MHFA initiative is not aimed at qualified mental health professionals but at all adults: anyone can take the course. That said, the priority target groups are those who may be likely to encounter a person experiencing mental health problems, so health ancillary workers, frontline staff in advice and counselling, prison and probation officers and the like will be high on the list in England, as elsewhere.

The aims of MHFA are fourfold:

* To preserve life where a person may be a danger to themselves or others; for example, where there are suicidal thoughts, self-harm or psychosis

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