Q&A with Poppy Jaman, CEO of Mental Health First Aid England, non-executive director of Public Health England and Programme Director of the City Mental Health Alliance
What is the main difference between physical first aid and mental first aid? And are there any crossovers?
“Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an educational course which teaches people how to identify, understand and help a person who is experiencing a mental health issue. A physical first aider is trained to stop an injury or a life-threatening condition from getting worse – a mental health first aider is the same but for a mental health issue or crisis. Mental Health First Aid also teaches people the importance of wellbeing and how to look after their own mental health or support others to do the same; and in this regard, it could be considered quite different to physical first aid. We know that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health issue during our lives, so it stands to reason that we should have mental health first aiders, as well as physical first aiders.”
You offer various courses for those working with adults, youths and for the armed forces, do you think you will do a course specifically for young people, or is the aim to get the message out to the younger generations via Youth Mental Health First Aiders?
“We’re currently working hard to engage younger generations in three key ways. The first is through our Youth in Schools programme – in January the government committed to equipping every secondary school in the country with a Mental Health Champion. We’re now in the early stages of coordinating training on our one day Youth MHFA course which by 2020 will reach over 3,000 secondary schools in England. This will mean staff in these schools will be trained to provide mental health support on a first aid basis to pupils aged 11 to 18…
The second is via our brand new Higher Education Mental Health First Aid course. This is a course we have recently launched that is tailored to students, higher education support staff and academic staff. And finally, we are also working on developing a peer-to-peer course that will be specifically for young people – we expect to launch this at some point in 2018.”
Do you believe your courses to have a positive ripple effect across the country? And are there any statistics that support improvement due to mental health awareness?
“As a rapidly growing network organisation, we have over 1,200 instructors delivering courses to communities all over the country and training an estimated 10,000 people every month. By empowering so many people to understand mental health issues and in giving them the skills and the confidence to start conversations about mental health, I think it’s undeniable Mental Health First Aid has a positive ripple effect. My hope is that the work we, and many others, are doing is contributing to a culture change when it comes to our society’s approach to mental health and wellbeing…
A core component of Mental Health First Aid training courses is obviously increasing awareness of mental health issues and knowledge and confidence around how to support those who may be experiencing a mental health issue. From academic evaluations we know that up to 88% of course attendees report using Mental Health First Aid skills to support someone experiencing mental ill health after attending a course.
Mental health awareness also aims to support early intervention to help reduce the impact of mental health issues in the long term. In a way, we can think of taking steps to support our own mental wellbeing as the earliest form of intervention there is. Learning about this is an integral aspect our course and research shows that up to 74% of participants report a positive impact of the course on their personal mental health. The hidden impact this has on preventing mental health issues developing is difficult to quantify, but important to bear in mind when thinking about the impact of mental health awareness efforts.”
As an internationally recognised course, why do you think that MHFA is so popular compared with other mental health courses in the world?
“There are a wide range of mental health training courses available and I think we need to understand that, in different ways, they all play an important role. We hope that Mental Health First Aid is now being seen as a core part of this and I’m proud that Mental Health First Aid now has a presence in 24 countries. I think the fantastic enthusiasm that our movement has been greeted with by established mental health campaigners all over the world has helped us to achieve this. For example, the 2016 World Mental Health Day theme was ‘psychological and mental health first aid for all’ – a fantastic indicator of its popularity and desire by the World Federation for Mental Health to see it become more widely available.
Personally, I’d like to think that it’s the balance between education around mental illness, learning skills to hold conversations around mental health and learning how to support your own wellbeing that makes our courses so impactful.”
For those professionals who are already in the caring industry, why is the MHFA a good choice for them to add to their existing skill-set and qualifications?
“As an example, we have trained frontline and back office staff at Public Health Dorset in Mental Health Frist Aid and this had a real impact in the way they felt they could support their client base with their housing and social needs. A six month follow up with this organisation found that 83% of those trained said it had helped them in the workplace, 90% said they felt confident to respond to a mental health issue and 73% said the training had helped in their personal lives.
These statistics indicate that we need to be careful in assuming that just because people may work in caring, or even more specifically mental health related roles, that they already feel confident in offering support to those experiencing a mental health issue. These figures are also testament to the impact Mental Health First Aid has from a personal perspective, not just in terms of supporting others. We know that the emotional labour that comes with working in caring industries can be a contributory factor to suffering work-related stress. For this reason, I believe the emphasis our courses place on how to look after your own wellbeing is invaluable to this demographic.”
Why is mental health awareness so important within modern businesses?
“For me, it’s the scale of mental health issues among our working age population and the impact this has both on employee wellbeing, and to a lesser extent the bottom line, that make mental health awareness important for modern businesses. Survey results published this month (April) by UK health and benefits business Aon Employee Benefits showed that 55% of UK employers have seen an increase in the number of mental health-related illnesses. This has a damaging impact on businesses – a report by FirstCare identified mental health issues as a major contributor to increased levels of absence, something that is estimated to costs £18bn in lost productivity every year. Our evidence shows that organisations who train line managers in mental health awareness reap the rewards in terms of reduced sickness absence, increased referrals to Employee Assistance Programmes or inhouse counselling and an improved culture around treating mental and physical health issues equally.
In this post-recession era, people are often working longer hours, with fewer resources, and are under greater personal financial pressures. It’s therefore important that HR professionals and employers recognise the impact this has on their workforce’s mental health and take steps to improve workplace wellbeing. Our Line Managers’ resource, available on our website, is a great starting point for businesses interested in doing this.”
Do people ever recognise symptoms themselves when on a course? And how is this dealt with?
“Our instructors are themselves experienced Mental Health First Aiders and so are well placed to support those who may recognise symptoms while on our courses and to direct them to the appropriate support as required. In my experience, stress is one of the most common symptoms that people report identifying through our training and I find it’s something we can all relate to. The group dynamic of our courses also provide a safe and confidential forum for people to voluntarily share their experiences and, in the case of stress, this in itself can be a useful way for people to learn from each other and explore different coping strategies.”
What tools can you provide for anyone reading this?
“As I mentioned, our Line Managers’ resource, hosted on our website, is ideal for HR professionals and employers who are interested in improving their workplace’s approach to mental health and wellbeing…
Our Take10Together toolkit is also available to download from our website – this includes a whole host of resources such as images, quotagraphics, videos and infographic posters that are designed to support mental wellbeing in workplaces, schools or community settings, while showing the importance of Mental Health First Aid training. These can be used on social media or blogs, shared with colleagues via office intranets, newsletters or public spaces in your workplace. This toolkit also includes content specifically for schools and those who work or live with young people.”
Thank you so much for your time Poppy, and for the wealth of information.
For those interested in finding out more about Mental Health First Aid visit: mhfaengland.org
And check back on Holistic Therapist Magazine website soon, in the featured and reviewed section for a review on the two-day Adult MHFA course