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Here, MHFA Instructors and MHFA Course participants share their experience of the training, and how they have used the Mental Health First Aid Action Plan ALGEE.

Blended MHFA for Nursing Students

May 12, 2016.
"I’m 18 and studying 1st year nursing and I finished your course for nursing students earlier this year. I just wanted to tell you that I am profoundly grateful for this resource. This, along with my course content, has given me the skill to help so many people in the last few months. I’ve become a support person for a family member with depression and anxiety and because of this course I was able to support him in a way that he was comfortable and felt secure, rather than pressured or trapped. I’ve helped my other family members by teaching them about his diseases and how they can help him too. I’m able to provide him with reliable information about his diseases that his mental health nurse does not explain, like the causes of his disease, how his medication works and self help strategies that he can try. I’ve been able to help house mates when their family members are in crisis and taught them ways that they can support them. I just wanted to thank you because this has given me so much confidence in providing this care and help to those around me. I’ve used this so much more than I thought I would have and I probably will for the rest of my life. Despite the fact that I still worry I’m going to get a phone call that has horrible news, I feel like you’ve helped me to do everything in my power to avoid that."

THANK YOU! This is such an important resource and I’m so glad it's available. - Anonymous.

Blended White Collar Workplace Mental Health First Aid Training by Stephen Dowling for Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority Staff

The Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Blended White Collar Workplace Program is a key component of our welfare and wellness program - ‘ESTA Live. Work – Be Well’.

The new course, initially trialled with a range of managers, supervisors, call-takers and dispatchers, provides successful participants with the skills and knowledge required to support, recognise or assist a co-worker who maybe experiencing mental health issues. Course content is tailored to the workplace setting using case studies to provide:

  • Skills to give appropriate initial help and support to someone experiencing a mental health illness.
  • Skills and knowledge to take appropriate action if a crisis situation arises until medical assistance is available.
  • Awareness of the evidenced based medical treatments available and where to access additional support.

The course is delivered by Stephen Dowling, Corporate Manager Health Safety Rehabilitation and Wellness, a qualified Mental Health First Aid Instructor utilising MHFA Australia best practice, evidence based , interactive self-paced eLearning platform together with face to face training. The face to face sessions provide all participants with the opportunity to revise and consolidate skills in a group setting, and to address mental health issues in the workplace in more depth.

This strategic approach to workplace welfare aims to provide ESTA with greater capability and confidence for supporting our co-workers across all our sites 27x7. It will provide ESTA people with the skills to strengthen their individual and team resilience in learning to care for each other as we deliver care to others.

Photo: Thera Storie Head of HR , Stephen Dowling Corporate Manager Health Safety and Wellness (MHFA Instructor), Andrea Johnston, Fabienne Morgana, Emma Broughton Call-Takers, Dispatchers and recent MHFA Graduands together with Julia Oxley Chief Executive Officer.

Standard MHFA Instructor and Electronic Warfare Officer No. 2 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Williamtown, Mark Picton, shares his experience of conducting his first MHFA Course for defence staff

"My background in mental health in the military started in 2013 as part of a peer support program called Mate 2 Mate. The Mate 2 Mate program involves providing support to a Defence member who has been wounded or is recovering from a serious illness or injury. To help me out in this role I also completed a Cert IV in Mental Health with NSW TAFE.

Being in the military can be a rewarding but sometimes challenging career. A typical deployment to the Middle East at this moment is around four months. Throw in the odd two to three week exercise throughout the year and you find yourself being away from family and friends for roughly six months of the year. In this instance it's important to look out for each other whilst on deployment and when you return to Australia.

Whilst Defence has a medical system that provides programs and support for its members pre- and post-deployment, it is usually your colleagues who work closely with you on deployment who recognise the signs of a developing mental health problem. Defence understands and realises that early intervention and access to the appropriate resources and awareness programs is vital and encourages the type of training that the MHFA and ASIST courses provide.

So ... after completing my Standard MHFA Instructors Course in Sydney in June I was keen to get my first course underway as soon as possible. I conducted my inaugural SMHFA course at RAAF Base Williamtown NSW in July for 12 members of Surveillance and Response Group and No. 26 Squadron. The course was well received by the participants and all agreed they would recommend the course to their peers. Future courses are being planned as the word has spread about the benefits that a MHFA course provides when being able to identify individuals who are experiencing an emerging mental health problem or are in a mental health crisis."

MHFA Instructor Kerry Miller shares a testimonial from one of her MHFA for Nursing Students Course participants

"Just thought you'd like to know that the day after finishing the MHFA I came across a situation that I was able to put my new skills in action. I was at work when a regular customer who I know has a mental illness (as told by his carer on some random occasion) came in seeming more agitated than usual. His pants were falling right down and his genitals were very nearly on display for the entire store to see. At this point, a security guard approached him and started yelling at him telling him to pull his pants up and in the process, attracting a lot of unnecessary attention to the man. A random bystander took it upon himself to begin abusing the ill man, threatening to bash the man and chasing him around.

By this point, everyone within ear shot was watching and many were laughing. I felt obliged to step in to alleviate the situation as the security present were only making it worse. I got my manager to call the police as I believed the ill man was in danger and I carefully approached the men. I asked the threatening man if he could please leave as I would handle the situation and let him know that speaking to the ill man in that manner was not helping the situation at all. When he backed off (but still didn't leave and was still yelling things out) I stood in front of the ill man and introduced myself. I asked him if he could please pull his pants up and thanked him when he complied. I asked him to join me in the dining room and offered him a drink of water to help him relax as he was very distressed by this point. I sat and talked to the man for several minutes before the police arrived and took over, removing the threatening man and taking the ill man with them, presumably to somewhere safer, where he could get some help. It was such a coincidence that the day after I finished MHFA that such a unique situation started unfolding right in front of me. I think I helped the best I could and hope the man is receiving the care he needs.

Being able to help makes me feel so much less anxious about clinical now.

Thanks for teaching me everything I needed to know! It was so helpful."

MHFA Course Conducted by Brain Ambulance (Perth WA) with AUSLAN Interpreters. MHFA Instrutors Arlene Hunt and Judy Bevan share their experience:

We (Brain Ambulance) have recently had the opportunity to roll out a series of MHFA courses as part of our involvement in a suicide prevention campaign for CaLD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) communities in conjunction with the Mental Health Commission of WA. The Deaf Society of WA approached us from the perspective of linguistic diversity and requested four of their members attend a standard MHFA course. With some administrative help from Betty and the team, the videos having sub titles, a bit of added paperwork and two fantastic AUSLAN interpreters, we were able to accommodate them.

Seeing the interpreters in action was inspiring to say the least. They enabled the participants to seamlessly contribute in every aspect of the course including group work, role play and general discussion. The group as a whole benefited from the experience as we were all exposed to some of the challenges faced by our deaf fellow community members.

For most of us it was the first time we had been made aware of the many difficulties they face on a daily basis. The most moving comment for me as an instructor was from one deaf participant who said the group felt included at last!

It was a pleasure to instruct all of the participants in that very diverse group with each others differences not only being respected but celebrated.

MHFA Instructor Geoffrey Ahern shares some feedback from a MHFA Course participant and his own perspective on running MHFA Courses

Like everyone, I'm just as vulnerable to mental health struggles. I've presented the course over 150 times but I've been battling the black dog myself at the moment. Recently, I received this feedback from Monash University who contracted me to run the course several times in December and have conducted a three month follow-up with the students. They forwarded me this comment:

"The MHFA has been the best program to date that I have completed in mental health. The Instructor [Geoffrey Ahern] who conducted my session was brilliant! This program has helped provide me with strategies that i really needed as a psychology student in how to help assess and respond to MHFA situations. It has also helped a nearby GP clinic (as a family member took my MHFA book and has never returned it!) the clinic now regularly uses the book in situations that the staff were not trained for! e.g. suicide/ self harm/ psychotic episodes. The MHFA helped me get two further opportunities - an Internship and a training place on a help line! Thank you so much! though!! I recommend this program to everyone i know who is in a situation where MHFA is really useful."

How awesome is that? More proof that this program is amazing!

One of the things that I have always loved about the MHFA course is that it is so incredibly practical. As a nursing student myself over two decades ago I remember feeling bogged down by theory and frustrated by having to write care plans about fictitious patients, which whilst in theory seemed like a good idea, the people living with the mental illness were far removed from what I was experiencing as a student.

When I arrived to my first ever mental health placement I was absolutely terrified. Sure, I could write a darn good care plan and talk about the latest theory on what causes schizophrenia, but I had no idea not only about how to talk to a person with a mental illness, but I really didn’t even know what to expect in terms of how they behaved.

Teaching the MHFA course, particularly to undergrad students at university, is incredibly rewarding, because I know that I’m providing them with the practical knowledge that they need. I know that they’ll meet their first client living with a mental illness and they won’t be scared. I know that they will be well equipped to talk comfortably and relax and enjoy learning from the person who’s sharing their story with them. And that makes me feel really good.

New Tools for Men’s Sheds in Macedon Ranges - by MHFA Instructor Annie Rowland

Over two consecutive Fridays in March, 19 men from the five Men's Sheds in Macedon Ranges Shire completed the 12-hour Standard MHFA Course. The Men's Shed initiative in Australia is about providing men in local communities with the opportunity to gather, connect, and build a sense of belonging and to participate in a range of activities that breakdown isolation and maintain an active mind and body.

Mental Health First Aid Instructor Pauline Neil commented:

“I think there are a lot of stereotypes about men when it comes to talking and sharing personal stories, especially if those stories might be of an emotional or deeply personal nature and I think a lot of that thinking feeds into a bigger issue of men not seeking out or offering appropriate support during difficult times, this group of 19 men are challenging this stereotype across the Shire in these Sheds."

It was an absolute privilege to train such a wonderful, robust and insightful group. These men and the Men's Shed movement are such an important point of connection week in week out for so many men in our local community, a place for men to work on a project of their choosing of just to go and grab a cuppa, share a meal and touch base. This training is just an added tool in their tool kit equipping them to be able to recognise when someone isn't travelling very well emotionally and more importantly to know how to step in and support that person.

Evidence shows that older men are at risk of developing mental health issues whether due to the transition from work to retirement, the loss of a partner or other factors. There is also a sharp rise in suicide rates for older men, particularly over 80 years old. Men's Sheds across Australia provide such a critical platform to engage this important cohort in these important conversations, how wonderful would it be to see a roll out of MHFA across Men's Sheds nationally?