Katie's Diary

Dorothy Lee-Jarvis Blog: supporting mental health first aid

20th January 2015

WE all have a light bulb moment.  You know, that instant when things that have been perplexing you for some time suddenly crystallise and it is as plain as the nose on your face what needs doing and what you can do.

Australians, Tony Jorm and Betty Kitchener, had theirs while out walking their dog.   Tony is a professor at a university and Betty, his wife, a nurse.  They always say they have their best ideas when out with the dog, I for one totally agree!  While discussing a recent conference Tony had been to, about treating people with mental health problems it became clear the stigma many people feel about admitting they have a problem and asking for help is simply down to ignorance. 

Walking a bit further, they came to the conclusion that better education would help reduce this ignorance and would in turn lead to better treatment for people who were suffering.

Being medics, training was key, but they also recognised that it needed training for people in all walks of life, who could swing into action when needed. They thought that if there was first aid training for mental health, specifically depression,  it would have a massive impact on the cause, effect and long term impact on society of this debilitating and wide reaching condition, as well as combating the stigma that people in a mental health crisis experience.

They were right; their idea was developed in their homeland, taken up in the United States and has been exported worldwide.  It has reached the UK, where  the MHFA want to see it given equal billing with first aid training in the workplace; what a brilliant idea!

Quite simply, they believe that if they raise awareness of mental health, teach trainees to recognise the symptoms, understand what to do then society will be better off and the stigma attached to mental health illness will reduce.

So far, so good; many forward thinking companies have first aiders in their workplaces who know what to do when someone is at risk; but here at ubu we also believe that spreading awareness and fighting stigma faced by the mentally ill is something for everyone.

For example, depression is one of the most common mental health complaints, yet rarely given the support its victims need.  At some stage in our lives the chances are we will all feel depressed, but how will we cope and what will the eventual outcome be?

Many have mild attacks that they are able to come to terms with and move on from. Bereavement, relationship trauma or work insecurity will all affect us at some stage.  But how can we recognise if someone close to us is suffering and what can we do to help the people we serve or our colleagues?

We can all keep a close eye on the people that we encounter regularly at work or in our community.  Common symptoms are being withdrawn, being very quiet or avoiding social situations.  If you do see someone behaving in this way then;

  • Ask if there is anything wrong
  • Offer them the chance to discuss their issue.
  • Reassure them that it is quite normal and they shouldn’t feel isolated
  • Ask if they have sought professional medical help and maybe offer to go with them to the doctors or speak to their Line Manager if it’s a colleague.

ubu practices what it preaches. A lot of what we do for the people we serve is linked to training people to recognise the signs that something is wrong and then being able to respond. 

Our enablers maybe felt like the untrained first aiders before joining ubu but wow they have demonstrated passion for caring and support with a real thirst for learning.  We enable them to get the skills so that they can support and care for the people we serve.  Like caterpillars they emerged from our Learning and Growing pathway ready to fly and spread the word, real ambassadors for ubu and real advocates for the people we serve!

Maybe more companies could train first aiders to apply a ‘band aid’ for the mind so that more butterflies could bring some support to those in need.



Follow us @ubusupport to see what else you ca do to support people with mental health issues.


Dorothy Lee-Jarvis Blog: supporting mental health first aid

 I decide what matters to me. ubu help and teach me to make my future happen 

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