By Sam Robinson
In 2020, Chally Kacelnik and I went along to the Mental Health First Aid course in Melbourne’s CBD. I didn’t really know what to expect. My predictions: coffee and a lot of food I shouldn’t eat…PowerPoint slides and a workbook….
(When it comes to workshop sessions and training, in my life at the moment, it’s usually me out the front of the class. But I was given some wise advice years ago that I should make the effort to be a student at least once a year. It keeps things fresh and gives you reflection time on your own practice…and many excuses to eat choc chip cookies and pastries).
While I can confirm there were biscuits, PowerPoint and a workbook (that I still flick through), it’s also a very worthwhile program and I recommend it to anyone who – like me – is early on in their learning about mental health.
One exercise asked people to call out all the words and phrases they’ve heard about mental health. It was confronting how many I could think of! “Crazy, mad, touched, unhinged”: there are so many words that we use to describe mental health that do an awful amount of damage. These words can package up mental health as something that only affects other people, that it’s about weakness, that it’s an excuse. It makes mental health easier to dismiss, to ignore and to brush over.
I confronted a lot of thoughts and feelings I had about mental health that aren’t helpful, for example that mental health = bad mental health. In my mind, mental health was something to worry about only if it’s not working. But I’ve realised that doesn’t work – mental health is something you need to think about, maintain and make time for – just like your physical health. With some effort, there’s a lot you can do to create the conditions for good mental health. And you need to get help when you need it – and not even when things get desperate, but any time.
Finally, we did an exercise where each person was asked to equate the impact of physical illness on a person with the impact of mental illness. To hear the stories about how debilitating depression and anxiety can be, it was heartbreaking. It’s something I now reflect on often whenever I know someone is struggling.
If you haven’t done it, I recommend learning more about mental health with a good program like this one.
And if – like many of us – you work in an organisation or in some form with other people, consider becoming a mental health first aider. Listening – really listening – to someone else is the highest form of respect you can pay to someone else. Being a mental health first aider just gives you an extra reason to do it.