Mental Health First Aid

It was TrueNorthPHP conference in 2013 that I first saw Ed Finkler speak. It was his Open Sourcing Mental Illness talk. This talk has meant so much to me on so many levels, but one of the things I took away from that talk was the existence of Mental Health First Aid. Mental Health First Aid is basically the mental illness counterpart of regular first aid. It gives you basic information about how to handle when you encounter someone with a mental illess, especially in crisis situations. This includes approaching the person, what to do and not to do when talking to them, and how to make sure people get the right help, including a hand-off to (mental health) medical professionals.

Fast forward a few years to about two years ago. Doing the MHFA course was still on my wishlist, but there still was no option in The Netherlands to do so. Just as I was looking into options of travelling to the UK for the course, I found out that one of the Dutch regional institutes for mental health (GGZ Eindhoven) was working on bringing MHFA to The Netherlands. I contacted them to see if I could be part of the trial group they were doing, but never heard back. I put my focus on some other things I wanted to do and put MHFA on hold again.

Earlier this year I decided to add a bit more structure to the training programs within my company Ingewikkeld to enable my employees a bit better to increase their knowledge and skills, but decided I definitely also should use this new structure for my own. I looked up the MHFA options in The Netherlands and found out that there were now many options for taking the course, including in my favorite city Utrecht. I signed up for the course, and over the past 4 weeks have had 4 3-hour sessions.

The goal

In the first session we were asked for our goals. My main goal was to understand more about mental illness and get handholds on how to act in case of talking to someone with a mental illness, be it a crisis situation or not. And over all sessions, this was indeed what happened. I learned a lot about depression, fear, psychosis, substance abuse and crisis such as suicidal tendencies, self-harm, panic attacks, aggression and more. About what it was and about how to handle such situations. As we were asked at the end of todays session to summarize our experience over the past 4 weeks, my answer was:

Goals achieved

It became personal

As I've got issues with depression myself, especially the first two sessions caused a lot of self-reflection as I learned more about what happens with depression. There was a lot of familiar situations in the course material, and it was very interesting to hear more background information on those situations. Our group was a very nice and diverse group, with people with lots of different backgrounds, which gave me a lot of insight into how different people experience different situations.

As the course progressed though, other mental illnesses were handled that I had no experience with. This was definitely eye opening. I now have so much more understanding of what can happen in peoples heads, and I hope that helps me in a more empathetic response to such situations, if I ever encounter them.

Why I recommend more people taking this course

Isn't it a bit weird that we find it very normal to take regular first aid courses, but we try to stay away of anything related to mental health? Somehow there is still a taboo on mental health related problems. And yet (at least here in The Netherlands) there are news items on a more regular basis about people with mental illness crises. It seems like this is a growing problem, yet nobody wants to know how to handle in such situations?

Taking this course will make you understand more clearly what happens when someone has a mental health issue. How it affects their life, and how to handle when you encounter a situation involving a mental health issue. It will help you be more empathetic, not just in crisis situations, but also when simply talking to someone with a mental illness. I also think it will look good on your resume for potential employers. It is still a rare skill to know how to handle in this situations, and employers will benefit from you having this knowledge. So Check which local organization offers the course and register. I'm pretty sure you won't regret it.