Calming the Nerves

It’s a shame we don’t deal with anxiety on the first day of MHFA training, because we could have just stood me at the front and said, there you go. Last Thursday, the first day of my first ever course as a (trainee) instructor. I felt so sick in the morning, after not a great deal of sleep. I couldn’t even drink the tea my mother made for me, let alone cope with breakfast. Sweaty palms, palpitations, a feeling of utter panic.

We understand anxiety at times like that. Before doing presentations, going for an interview, meeting your in-laws for the first time. Things you maybe would rather not have to do, but you can’t avoid them, and you want it to go well, you want to make a good impression. It is one of the few times I think I managed to get someone to understand the way my depression / anxiety can manifest physically, was when I said, remember how you felt before the last interview you went for. Now imagine you feel like that, or worse, all the time, and you don’t know why.

Or you know why, but you know your anxiety is out of proportion to the stimulus. You logically know the probability of the bus crashing, or you vomiting in the street is low, but you cannot overcome the fear and panic which the thought of it induces within yourself. And you beat yourself up, because you know you “should” be able to do these things just like everyone else. You assume everyone else would laugh if they knew how ridiculous you were.

Well. If only we were all as perfect as other people think we must be. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems, and who’s to say that a quarter of that bus load (or more) aren’t also in their own personal hell as they go to work. Maybe they’ve got a little way further in finding a way to cope. Maybe that’s why their music is so loud, or they won’t meet anyone’s eyes. Maybe that’s why that guy got off when it got too full. Maybe it’s not the bus that bothers them. Maybe it’s the tube, or taxis, or answering the phone. Anxiety is ubiquitous, problematic anxiety is common. You are not alone. And there are many ways to begin finding a way to cope and live fulfilling lives, from medication, talking therapies to self help and relaxation techniques. Don’t give up hope!

As for me, I pushed through the horrible pre-course nerves, stumbled my way through the first bit, and eventually found my rhythm, and you know what? I really enjoyed it. A day helping a group of engaged, interesting people learn about mental health and how to help someone who isn’t doing so well. Magic. Day two today, wish me luck!

Mental Health First Aid – a massively important programme

I first heard of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) some years ago at a Mental Health and Disabilities conference in London. I picked up a flyer which showed what a particular regional organisation was doing and a little about this training they were rolling out which aimed at bringing a “first aid” approach to the helping people experiencing mental health crises.

“What a fantastic idea” I thought. As someone with, as they say, “lived experience” of mental health problems, I could think of a million scenarios where someone, a friend, a colleague, a teacher, – could have helped me if they’d have had a little knowledge, and a little courage. And countless times when people tried to help and maybe made it a little worse, or harder to deal with, because they didn’t understand what was happening with me.  I don’t blame them – at least they tried, but the potential benefit of giving “ordinary” people a little bit more knowledge about what to do in times of crisis – was instantly apparent.

Mental Health First Aid was developed in Australia and has been slowly spreading across the globe.

I attended the two day course in October, and learnt a great deal – more than I expected to. As someone with my own experiences of depression and anxiety – and many friends with an assortment of diagnoses – I have read a lot. But there is always more to learn. More importantly – I came away feeling better prepared to help others, and indeed myself, if the need were to arise again.

When my employer announced they were looking to get some people qualified to deliver the training, I leapt at the chance. And in February this year I joined a cohort of excited and committed people from many different backgrounds – all eager to begin delivering Mental Health First Aid training to the world at large.  We had a great, and quite intense time together learning about the course, about different conditions, different forms of treatment / therapy. It by no means made us mental health experts or therapists – but helped give us a grounding from which to build our knowledge.

Tomorrow, is the first day of my first course. I am nervous, but excited, and hope my trainees find the course as inspiring as I did last year, and go on to help lots of people.