Clara Cook, Programme Manager for three of our MSc programmes speaks to The Student Lens about her recent experience being trained as an LSE Mental Health First-Aider. Mental Health First Aid Training is sponsored and run by MHFA England, a training and campaigning organisation dedicated to transforming workplace mental health through a range of evidence-based training courses. In their most popular course, staff spend two days learning everything from how to spot the signs of un-diagnosed depression to how to support someone who is suicidal or having a psychotic episode.
Why is this kind of training important on the LSE campus?
Undertaking MHFA was an eye opening experience. We were given some interesting statistics; approximately 1 in 4 adults in England have been diagnosed with mental illness, while 1 in 5 report experiencing mental health issues without ever being diagnosed or given help. These numbers show that mental health is not some secret taboo subject that should be hidden, but a concern for us all. Mental illness can affect anyone.
It is important to remember that LSE is a large community in the heart of a very large city, so it is easy for people to feel isolated with their problems. MHFA training helps staff to spot the signs of someone struggling mentally and to support them in the advent of an immediate crisis and point them in the direction of professional help.
What sorts of things did you learn on the course?
At LSE we are constantly striving to improve the mental health support for our students, but it was not always clear who staff should turn to when they were struggling themselves. Over the years I have seen countless colleagues in Higher Education suffer from stress, exhaustion and anxiety and I often have been unsure how to help them. Therefore when the School announced this year that they were running Mental Health First Aid training, I jumped at the chance to take part and learn more.
The most interesting part of the course was learning very practical tips on how to help someone going through an immediate urgent crisis. I now feel confident in what steps to take if someone is having a panic attack and how to be an active listener when someone wants to talk about how they feel. I was able to apply this knowledge almost immediately after my first training session when a young woman started to panic on the tube on my way home from work and together we worked to calm her down so she could book an appointment with her GP.
What should students and staff know about mental health on campus?
Universities can be exciting places. They are environments filled with diversity, learning and new opportunities to connect and share ideas. But they can also be busy and intense, filled with academic and social pressures which can often cause stress amongst both students and staff. It is important that everyone in Higher Education understands mental health, monitors their own wellbeing and seeks appropriate help when they need it. At LSE there are a range of services available to students from counselling and Wellbeing advisors to peer support. Staff are also encouraged to seek support from the Staff Counsellors on campus and are able to speak freely to any of the Mental Health First Aiders at LSE. All these services can easily be found online and accessed at short notice in the event of an emergency.
It is important to remember that LSE is based in a very urban area of London and that many things such as noise pollution, crowds and traffic can affect your mental health even without you being conscious of it.
In addition to these services, there are also many safe and quiet places on campus where students and staff can go to relax, unwind and feel peaceful, such as the Faith Centre or the Shaw Library. It is important to remember that LSE is based in a very urban area of London and that many things such as noise pollution, crowds and traffic can affect your mental health even without you being conscious of it. It is important to find a spot on campus that you feel comfortable in and to take regular breaks from work or studying.
Will you be implementing any changes in your work as a result of the course?
It is early days, but those of us who have attended the MHFA training and are now qualified Mental Health First Aiders, are planning to set up a network across the School to advise, support and facilitate good mental health practice for both staff and students. For my own small team, I have been practicing my active listening skills, encouraging my colleagues to seek support when needed, take breaks and generally practice self-care in their lives and during the working week. Sometimes simply asking someone how they are is enough to let someone suffering in silence know they are cared for and supported.
Another really nice aspect of the training was that I left the course better able to understand my family, friends and colleagues who had suffered from conditions and who continue to struggle to maintain good mental health. The training dispelled a lot of myths about mental illness that I heard about in the media, especially with regards to suicide and psychosis. A mental health crisis can be frightening, both for the person suffering and for those around them, but those of us trained as Mental Health First Aiders are there to help.
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