• Stephanie Heath

Mental Health First Aider Training - MHFA England & Save the Children

Last week I completed a mental health first aid course that was facilitated by my employer (Save the Children) and Mental Health First Aid England via online self-directed study and virtual group sessions.


If you're thinking of becoming a Mental Health First Aider or would like to find out more here are my top 5 takeaways from this experience... I'm sure some will surprise you!

1 - Do not share your personal experiences

I have a habit of sharing my personal experiences in an attempt to make others feel comfortable. During this course, I learned that this can actually have the opposite effect and you can project your own trauma, feelings or responses to the other person. Instead, you can acknowledge what they have disclosed to you and how they are feeling. This also helps to set up personal boundaries (another key takeaway).

2 - Use non-judgmental language

Ensure that you use non-judgmental language. Now I really thought this wouldn't be an issue for me but actually this is harder than you think. Make sure you ask open questions rather than making suggestions. In addition, although the course gives you a fantastic overview of mental health conditions and crisis situations, you are not qualified to give advise. You can signpost to guidance, ensure they have a network of support and make sure the person can seek professional advice that they need.

3 - Boundaries of your support.

It is important that you learn as a mental health first aider to establish the boundaries of your support. It is easy to feel like once you have supported someone in any way that you need to be a consistent presence and support network for them. This is actually harmful for you and the person because you they may develop a dependency on you when they actually need professional support and guidance. In addition, you cannot put yourself in a situation as a first aider.

4 - This is a commitment

If you're doing this course as a 'tick box exercise' please don't. This course is a commitment to have an active interest in supporting others and learning about conditions but also to be able to suggest professional support. The topics covered can be difficult to learn and may be triggering but you will have the tool-kit to be able to recognize and support people in critical need.

5 - Fantastic principles

My favourite takeaway are the amazing principles that you can apply to every day life in so many ways;

  • be kind to others (you have no idea what they are going through)

  • be non-judgmental (never assume the worst of someone, they may have challenges that you don't understand)

  • be self aware (reflect on your language choices, body language and terminology)

  • you are not a professional (you are not qualified to provide any guidance or to diagnose anyone, you are a first responder only)

  • you DO not know what people are going through (you cannot walk in someone else's shoes)

  • everyone needs support (mental health is a daily practice and we all have different triggers, coping mechanisms and experiences).


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