Mental health first aid

The past two days, I’ve been on the NSW Central Coast learning how to do first aid – for mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, pychosis and substance abuse, including touching on suicide. The trainer said we’re a pretty cutting edge to be training in this, so that always feels nice.

I learnt SO much, and it was an ‘opt in’ course, which meant everyone WANTED to be there, and often had much to share.  I was delighted to find three staff who came with less than 24 hours notice of the course.  I didn’t think to suggest it, as I didn’t think anyone would be interested – there’s no financial reward!  And as a manager, I’m not the ideal candidate (but due to my gender, and the generally few women in depots, it also makes sense – it’ll not be staff who report to me who’d likely come and see me, but I also like being educated about things that may still affect my staff).

If nothing else, this cartoon helps understand what sympathy is and how it differs from empathy.

There was lots of myth busting

  1. Talking about suicide – literally asking ‘have you had suicidal thoughts?’ and ‘do you have a plan?’ does not risk the chances of suicide.  Usually, the respondent feels a weight lifting that someone noticed and cared enough to ask.
  2. Substance abuse disorder is an actual mental health condition, but often in addition to, or masking/self medicating another mental health condition.
  3. Psychosis – don’t refute or agree with any hallucinations.  Like with many other symptoms, empathise how that might feel (scary!) but don’t try to ‘prove’ it’s all in the mind.
  4. Anxiety is more prevalent in women.
  5. Cannabis can ‘switch on’ paranoia and psychosis with one use if someone is genetically predisposed.
  6. Handing crying people tissues isn’t advised – it can be interpreted as showing your discomfort with tears.  Just have them easily accessible, but don’t offer them.
  7.  Almost all mental health conditions are recoverable, and certainly manageable to return to a suitable quality of life
  8. Many smokers use it as a way to treat a mental health conditions.
  9. People who have panic attacks often avoid exercise as it can mimic the symptoms.  And panic disorder can result in agoraphobia, because on the fear that there’ll be no one to help and care for them in a traumatic experience that they think will kill them.
  10. The main difference between heart attacks and panic attacks is… panic attacks have a fear of death.  Heart attacks find people focusing on the pain.

I hope I may have taught you something (and I hope I got things right from memory!)

4 Replies to “Mental health first aid”

  1. I deal with mental health issues a lot in my job. You just taught me something new. The point re exercise mimicking panic attacks. Explains why someone I know won’t exercise and says it sets off her condition. She’s confusing her body’s response.

    1. I'm glad there was something I could teach you!

      I think the guy who taught our course doesn't usually do 'corporate' but mainly schools, interestingly.

  2. I am one of the few people I know who is against cannabis use because of the issue you mention (and also the lack of motivation it causes, which can derail education and career goals).

    The Mental Health First Aid course is available to staff at the library where I work, but I haven't taken it yet. I send front-line staff as often as I can.

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