Yesterday, after two intensive days of training I qualified as a youth mental health first aider. I am very proud to have completed the course and I would highly recommend it to others who are concerned about young people’s mental health.
When I completed my M.Sc. in public health promotion in 2006 I regularly focused on the topic of mental health in schools and in particular my research looked at self – esteem and body image in young people.Since then, I have been acutely aware that mental ill health is a ticking time bomb and that mental health should be the greatest public health concern.Sadly, however mental health still seems to be underfunded, under prioritised and stigmatised in the UK.
As a teacher, I am increasingly concerned at the number of young people who exhibit signs and symptoms of stress,anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorders and self harming behaviours such as cutting and eating disorders.
Statistics are alarmingly but they are also likely to be inaccurate due to the reluctance of some young people and their families to seek help about mental health concerns but here are a few just to put things into perspective
- In a recent study, England ranked 13 th out of 16 countries when it came to children’s life satisfaction. ( York’s Social Policy Research Unit, 2016).
- Every day two people in England under the age of 24 kill themselves and suicide is the second most common cause of death for those aged 15 – 24.( Data from the National Statistics for England)
- Bulimia is around five times more common than anorexia and 90 percent of people with bulimia are female.The condition usually develops around the age of 18 or 19 (Royal College of Psychiatrists 2012).
- The majority of people who self harm are aged between 11 and 25 (Association for young people’s health, 2013).
So getting back to the course.The course is certified by Mental Health First Aid England and it was broken down into four manageable sections which were:
What is mental health?
Anxiety and depression
Suicide and psychosis
Self harm and eating disorders
The instructors Clare Blunt and Janet Lee were friendly, enthusiastic, well informed and the activities were relevant, organised and interactive. The subject matter was heavy, intense and quite frankly at times the facts and statistics were worrying but it was very sensitively delivered in manageable chunks and as a group we supported each other through it. Humour was often used to lighten the atmosphere.
Each course participant is provided with a mental health first aid manual packed with evidence based information including useful resources, websites and suggestions for signposting.An accompanying workbook is also provided which includes handout activity sheets which would be ideal for working one to one with a pupil or as teaching activities for whole classes in PSHE lessons. I have no doubt that these resources will become key aids in my mental health toolkit.
My biggest fear prior to the course was that in my efforts to help young people that I could potentially ‘ make things worse’. I now feel confident that I have the skills and knowledge to help, to listen and support as best I can without making things worse. This course does not make you a mental health expert or give you the skills that professional such as psychologist have to help people.However, it does equip you with the knowledge and skills to identify risk factors, signs and symptoms, to advise young people on self care strategies and the avenues to follow if professional help is needed. It also gives you an opportunity to reflect on your own mental health and to understand why looking after yourself is important in helping you to help others.
Staff rooms around the country have lists of staff who are trained to administer first aid for physical injuries such as cuts, breaks and even CPR.My hope is that in the next few years an equally long list of people who are trained to administer mental first aid will appear on staffroom notice boards.By tackling health in the holistic sense which very much includes mental health we will begin to see massive improvements in the overall health of the nation and truly acknowledge that every child does matter.
So schools out there,get your staff signed up soon for a course near you. You won’t regret it!
Contact Clare at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or check out the following websites
For other blogs on mental health in schools read: