Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) – which course(s) are right for you?

I’ve just started scheduling courses, so thought I would write something to help people decide which course would be most suitable for their needs.

MHFA England have a range of options, which is constantly being developed – other countries have other options, which hopefully we may catch up with at some point. In order to become an instructor you have to do a 7 day training course, which will qualify you for one of the core areas – Adult, Youth, or Armed Forces. You need to do additional training to take on additional areas. (Nb. For more information on Youth / Armed Forces versions please see MHFA England)

Within each area, there are (or will be) a few different options, which, again, the trainer will have had specific, additional training to be able to deliver.

I am an approved MHFA – Adult – Instructor, at present I can offer the following courses:

Mental Health First Aid – Adult – Two day course
(This gives full Mental Health First Aider status)
MHFA “Lite” – Adult – Half day course
(A basic introduction to mental health)
Mental Health First Aid – Higher Education – One Day Course
(Giving “Mental Health Champion” status, with additional content regarding issues for staff and students in universities)

They are hopefully launching a standard adult one day course later in the year which I will look to add to my portfolio.

So – which should you do? All have different time and cost commitment so it’s useful to think about what you want to get out of it.  If you are looking for just your personal interest, then the outlines below should help you to choose. If you are looking from an organisational perspective, thinking about rolling out some kind of mental health training in your workplace, the answer is “All of them”.  (And I’m not just saying that to get your business!)

Different people in your organisation may have different needs so it is good to have a structured approach.  Everyone will benefit from the basic awareness given by MHFA Lite, and you should definitely have some people in your organisation who are fully trained Mental Health First Aiders. Sometimes organisations send their senior staff or HR Leads, but actually the most sensible approach might be to think who is most likely to be able to offer support? Line Managers, Union reps, members of staff networks, security staff, receptionists / front line staff. All might be more likely to be the one who has the first opportunity to support someone in distress. However – I also really recommend that senior managers and HR colleagues do attend – the “Mental Health Champion” level might be most appropriate for them, and is something every larger team or branch within an organisation would benefit from. At present this is aimed at people in Higher Education, but would be interesting and useful for anyone wanting more that the Lite offering. I think it is important for some senior staff, and HR staff to undertake this level or above, as at the end of the day they are the ones who shape an organisation’s attitude towards Mental Health (and other disability) – I have seen situations where individual line managers or team leaders are trying their best to help and support employees with mental health difficulties, only to be hampered by inflexible and insensitive lines from above, refusal to consider or approve reasonable adjustments, hard line sickness and lateness policies, lack of employee support offerings. This course helps open people’s eyes – firstly to the reality of what diagnoses like “anxiety” or “depression” actually mean, and, if the human / compassion angle is not enough – the very real business benefit to supporting employees with mental health issues (and indeed other disabilities) to be able to stay in work, and perform to the best of their abilities.

What is the difference between the different courses?

Mental Health First Aid – Adult – Two Day Course

I put this one first as it is the gold standard – the one the whole system is based upon. If you can go on / send everyone on this course, then do. (If you are wanting to set up in house training – contact me to discuss, you won’t have to pay the full “per person” rate). This course was developed in Australia – and aims to offer the same simple, easy to remember approach to supporting someone who is struggling with mental health, as physical First Aid training gives to someone with a cut, burn, broken leg or heart attack.

We look at what we mean by mental health, what kind of impact it has on the UK in terms of people, and economy. We think about prevalence and variations, and what might be behind them. We talk about why people might be reluctant to talk about, or seek help for developing mental health problems.  We think about stigma and discrimination and the impact this has.  We think about what influences our mental health, what might make it deteriorate, and what can sometimes help protect positive emotional wellbeing.

Then we look at the specifics of some conditions. Not all – it’s hard enough to fit what we do cover into two days – and you could probably spend over a month even doing a basic overview of “all” possible diagnoses.  But the more common, (Anxiety / Depression) and more severe end of things (Psychosis / Suicide).  We touch on some other aspects along the way – PTSD, phobias, eating disorders, self-harm, personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia.

We introduce “ALGEE” the Mental Health First Aid Action plan – the easy to remember mnemonic which prompts you the steps to take in approaching someone you’re worried about and want to help.

We look at how ALGEE might be used in each of the different scenarios above (Anxiety, Depression etc.) – as there are different things to think about in each case, you might approach things differently if someone seemed suicidal, or experiencing psychosis – than if they were suffering from extreme anxiety.

We give the opportunity for discussion, and to practice listening skills. The course uses various teaching/learning methods, group activities, case studies, videos, lived experience, artwork.

We talk about what help might be available and might help – through medications, talking therapies, and other more self-help or peer-support approaches. MHFA aims to have a holistic approach to mental health – not focusing solely on the medical model, or indeed ignoring it.  Mental Health, and the study of the mind is a relatively young field of medicine (in the west at least). We know less about the whys and hows of what makes our mind unwell than we do the heart or back.  After all, until very recently it was pretty impossible to look inside a brain without extremely poor patient outcomes (i.e. death). So – we don’t talk in absolutes.

We think about self-care. The importance of looking after your own physical and mental wellbeing regardless how busy you are, or how many responsibilities you have. If I could I would send everyone on an MHFA for their own benefit. Everything you learn can be applied to yourself. And indeed I credit some of my improvement over the past few years to the increased understanding I gained from MHFA. It’s an added bonus that I can support my loved ones, friends, colleagues etc too.

At the end of the course you will be a Mental Health First Aider, receive an email certificate and have a useful 270+page manual and workbook to refer to.

Mental Health First Aid – Higher Education – One Day Course

I put this one next as despite the focus on Higher Education – there should be a one day course in between the full MHFA experience and MHFA Lite. I think a generic or workplace one is due to be released later in the year. In the meantime – you wouldn’t lose out by attending this, even if you aren’t based in education. If you have children at or soon to attend university, it may also be of interest to you.

This is actually almost just an intensely compressed version of the two day – with added higher education detail.  However because it is compressed, there are less activities, opportunity for practice, or indeed discussion. It is because of this that this isn’t enough to give “Mental Health First Aider” status. (If that is your aim then do the two day as it would be the best use of your time and money) Instead you are classed as a “Mental Health Champion“, who will hopefully go away and influence your environment to be more supportive towards Mental Health issues, and even get some people fully trained as Mental Health First Aiders.

The Higher Education specific aspect has been developed in conjunction with Student Minds – the course was piloted in 16 universities and evaluated by Chester University, Videos and case study content think specifically about the context of student mental health, and how to develop a mentally healthy community within your university. The manual also includes some more HE specific references and content in addition to the general material.

The course still covers most of the same topics, only in less depth:

What is mental health?
What influences our mental health?
The Mental Health First Aid Action Plan
Non-judgemental listening
Self Harm
Eating Disorders
Mentally Healthy HE Communities

MHFA Lite – Half Day Course

This course is due for an update soon – after which it will simply be known as the MHFA Half Day Course, with updated branding to bring it in line with the others.

MHFA Lite is an introductory mental health awareness course. We again look at the basic question of what we mean by mental health and what influences it. We talk about stigma and discrimination and prevalence. There is a very quick overview of the different mental health issues mentioned above – Anxiety, Depression, Self-harm, Eating disorders, Suicide, Psychosis. We think about supporting others in distress and what you might be able to do to make yourself better prepared to provide such support – whether through taking full Mental Health First Aider training, or just reading more and finding out what is on offer in your area. We look at resilience and what can (sometimes) help to keep us on the positive side of the mental health “continuum”.

It’s a great introduction to a huge topic, and if you are looking to raise mental health awareness over a larger number of people it is certainly a good start.

You will receive a certificate of attendence, and a basic manual.

If you’re still not sure which is right for you, please do get in touch and I’m happy to talk it through with you. – If you are, then see what open courses I have coming up on Eventbrite below, or get in touch to discuss your requirements.  If you are unable to attend the open courses due to location or timing, let me know what would be better for you and I will bear in mind when booking my next slots.

Sarah Long Mental Health & Wellbeing Courses

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