Why I trained as a Mental Health First Aider

Jul 21, 2021

by Abigail Dickinson, Door of Hope Women’s Support Worker

I have always believed that there is no recovery without community. Stigma regarding mental health problems can cause people to isolate themselves, not seek support and to internalise the stigma. I decided to become Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) trained so that I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to make a difference if someone from the public, my colleagues or loved ones needed my support with their mental health. I felt that with a better understanding of mental health, I could help to reduce this stigma and discrimination.

It all starts with a conversation.

So, what is MHFA?

MHFA is provided to a person experiencing a mental health problem, or who is in a mental health crisis.  Just like with physical first aid, you are taught to support the person in need by applying an action plan until professional help is received or the crisis resolves. By the time a person is in crisis, the effect on their health may be extreme. Sometimes professional and other support services are not available in a crisis. Just like physical first aid, watching won’t help, but being trained will. The trick is not to try to find the solution, but to be there as the first point of contact to help and direct people to the right support. Just providing a safe and open environment for conversation to occur makes a real difference.

The MHFA course taught me how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance misuse disorders. I learnt about the differences between conditions, and how to have appropriate conversations. I have a better understanding of how to act if a crisis arises involving suicidal behaviour, panic attack, stress reaction to trauma, overdose or threatening psychotic behaviour. Particularly useful for me was identifying multiple types of professional and self-help resources, which has made me feel confident with signposting those in need.

Not only do I feel better equipped to recognise the warning signs of a mental health crisis, but I now know how to respond with the ALGEE Action Plan. I have the ALGEE action plan printed out and stuck to my desk:

  • A: Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • L: Listen non-judgmentally
  • G: Give reassurance and information
  • E: Encourage appropriate professional help
  • E: Encourage self-help and other support strategies

This training came at such an important time for me, as I have witnessed over the last year how the anxiety and stress caused by COVID-19 has compounded already existing mental health challenges. There are a lot of myths and stereotypes regarding mental health that create barriers for support, and I believe that mental health should be given the same level of attention as physical health.

The training has made it easier for me to have a direct conversation with anyone about mental health. In our sector, burnout and vicarious trauma are common, and I like that I can spot early signs that my colleagues might be suffering. I will be delivering a quick 30 minute training session to my team about MHFA and the ALGEE action plan next month.

It is important for my colleagues to know that as a team, we are all there to listen to each other non-judgmentally and know that help is there if they want it. I feel fortunate to work for a charity that allow such open dialogue about tough topics.