Andy Barker, a MHFA England instructor gives us his insight into the importance of mental health.
So, what is mental health? It’s a question I ask my Mental Health First Aid trainees at the start of a course. It usually opens up a lively debate. Mental health is something we all have. In the same way that we have physical health. We know that at times, our physical health can deteriorate and we accept bouts of illness as inevitable.
We exercise to stay fitter. Some choose to run, maybe join a gym, or perhaps take regular walks with the dog. That’s all good. Diet affects health, both positively and negatively. Knowing this, we make life choices that have a bearing on our health and fitness. But how much time do we spend actively looking after our mental health? Giving our mind a workout? No time at all. Mental health is the Elephant in the room.
In the west, there’s an attitudinal disconnect between physical and mental health. It’s as though we regard our minds and bodies as being separate. Taboos about mental health increase the sense of disconnection, although there are strong signs that this is starting to change.
Of course, the brain and body are completely interdependent. Physical illness can materially affect mental health and vice versa. So why is it ok to have an arm in a cast or a streaming cold, but absolutely unthinkable to admit to experiencing depression or anxiety? Isn’t it better to regard physical health and mental health as being the same? Just health.
The 2017 UK Government report Thriving at Work states that poor mental health costs the economy as a whole between £74 billion and £99 billion per year. Focusing however on the human cost, 300,000 people with a long term mental health condition lose their jobs each year. That’s alarming and goes some way to explaining why fear and secrecy persists. It’s time to change.
I’m involved in Mental Health First Aid and cognitive skills training in order to promote and support better mental health. To be trained to recognise that someone may be struggling and have the confidence to start a conversation can be pivotal. To listen without judgement. To encourage and enable the next level of support. These actions make a significant and positive difference. In the extreme, it can be the difference between life and death. The primary function of Mental Health First Aid is to preserve life.
Everyone benefits from being a Mental Health First Aider. It enables people to reconsider attitudes to mental ill health, reframing the us and them viewpoint. There’s also valuable insight into self support. Considering our own wellbeing. Understanding the benefits of taking time out. Of being kinder to ourselves. Recognising when we’re starting to struggle and developing effective coping strategies.
There are strong signs that positive change is underway. Conversations about mental health are more evident. There is increasing awareness and understanding. We all know someone who has experienced mental illness. So, let’s all play our part in acknowledging the Elephant in the room. Start your own conversations, enhance knowledge and help to change the way we all think and act about mental health problems.
If you would like to learn more about Mental Health First Aid then why not book onto this course.
MHFA England is the only provider of licensed Mental Health First Aid Instructor Training in England