6 February is Time to Talk Day – a day to start conversations about mental health. In this blog post, Daniel Payne talks about the Mental Health First Aid course he attended and the importance of discussing mental health at work.
One activity involved half the class listing positive words in relation to mental health and the other half, negative words. It is easy to guess which group struggled and which ran out of paper.
We all have mental health. One in four of us will experience problems with our mental health that can negatively alter the way we think, feel and behave. It is an issue which directly or indirectly affects us all and a brief search on the ONS website quickly produces some quite alarming statistics. In 2011, significantly more people completed suicide in the UK (6,045) than died in road traffic collisions (1,901). That this figure is surprising is perhaps testament to the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health disorders. As a public health issue, we talk about it far less than we do about careful driving.
This was one of many surprises I discovered on a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training course I attended at LSE. MHFA is a community interest company which focuses on “increasing the mental health literacy of the population”. It is part of a growing international movement involving 16 countries and is endorsed by the Department of Health. At LSE, this course is offered to staff and research students over two days, and a place can be reserved here when the next course becomes available.
Just as ‘traditional’ first aid training does not make you a doctor, the trainers are clear to point out that MHFA does not intend to make therapists of the participants. Rather, its intention is to advocate ways in which they can reduce stigma, teach skills in non-judgemental listening, give ways to promote recovery to good mental health, and help participants recognise some of the more common mental health conditions such as anxiety related disorders, depression and psychosis.
Such skills are an essential part of our working and non-working lives. Many of us are uncertain of how to approach and talk to a person going through a mental health crisis. We may unintentionally say or do things which may exacerbate the problem and we feel uncertain how to act. MHFA better equips you for these situations by providing you with a set of tools you can draw on. Despite the understandably rather heavy subject matter, these topics were dealt with in a sensitive and enlightening way. Our inspiring and well-informed trainers integrated their own mental health experiences with a structured programme that engaged the participants in frank, and at times very moving, discussions.
Perhaps one of many lasting memories I will take away from this course is the role that our choice of words play in perpetuating stigma. How many of us have casually used the word ‘schizophrenic’ to describe the most ordinary and banal changes of mind, without realising the effect it can have, or even what schizophrenia actually is? You may also have read the beginning of this post and automatically replaced ‘completed’ with ‘committed’ suicide. The introduction of the Suicide Act in 1961 decriminalised suicide, meaning that individuals who do not complete suicide are no longer prosecuted. Our language is abundant with these negative words that keep the wheel of stigma turning. One activity involved half the class listing positive words in relation to mental health and the other half, negative words. It is easy to guess which group struggled and which ran out of paper.
Courses such as MHFA play an important role in giving colleagues at work the opportunity to discuss these issues where they may not otherwise feel it appropriate to do so. By completing the course, they take with them to the workplace the motivation to challenge that very assumption: that mental health is not a topic for the office.
Health and Safety legislation seeks to protect our health and minimise risk in the workplace, and it is important to remember this extends to our mental health. Under the Equality Act (2010), employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with a physical or mental health impairment. This document provides guidance on what employers can do to reduce stigma surrounding mental health issues.
MHFA is just one of a range of ways we can start the discussion about mental health issues in the workplace. At the end of the course, all participants produce an action plan to ensure they carry through the information from the training course to their working (and non-working) lives. I would be interested to hear from anyone on any successful ways of doing this at work beyond training courses and how successful this has been for them.
We are holding a Twitter chat on mental health on 6 February, 2-4pm. Join us @lsediversity and tweet using the hashtag #TimetoTalk.
- Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is an NHS programme which offers a range of psychological therapies for people with depression and anxiety disorders. You can find one local to you here. The Westminster Wellbeing Service is one such service available in the area and offers drop-in appointments.
Daniel Payne works as a library assistant in the research support team of LSE Library, and also reviews research proposals for a mental health charity. He is studying for an MSc in Information and Library studies and is interested in Open Access and mental health issues.