This week we announced our very exciting news, that we are bringing Mental Health First Aid to Wellington!
We’ve been chasing this moment for a very long time… it’s something we really really believe in. We think this is a game changer for New Zealand’s Mental Health!
So why is this so gosh darn exciting you might be asking? WELL, GET READY TO HEAR ALL OF THE REASONS WHY I AM SO STOKED TO BE SHARING THIS NEWS…
The story of why…
It was a full two years ago, when I attended a First Aid Course for our organisation. We wanted to be able to deal with any situations that came our way in our Wellbeing studio, so off I went to get my certificate. Physical first aid is a commonly accepted and a valued thing in our society right? Some workplaces might actually insist you do a First Aid Course for you to be able to work with them. It’s not unlikely that your employer has paid for you to go and do a first aid course.. Some of you, like me, may have taken yourself off to do one independent from your work because you just love the feeling of knowing that if you found yourself in a life or death emergency, you might just have the skills to change everything! To save a life?!!!
When I did this First Aid Course two years ago, I found myself asking our instructor over and over again “But what if this was a mental health issue?”…”What do I do if they are having a panic attack??”…”What should I say if someone expresses suicidal ideation?”.. “What if they are having a psychotic episode..?’
The instructor let me know over and over that that sort of thing wasn’t covered in this course.
This made absolutely no sense to me.. It just doesn’t stack up that New Zealand’s suicide rates are now higher than the road toll, and yet kiwis haven’t yet developed a response muscle for those emergency moments. If we aren’t able to talk about saving lives at mental crisis point in our First Aid Course then when and where can we? Where can we talk about what we can do if our loved ones or our community members are experiencing distress? Where can we find out what services exist to refer our friends to?
I started to worry that New Zealand might never be able to match the response attitude that members of the public have gained through CPR certificates – The sense of civil duty, the confidence and clear plan of action – for mental health emergencies. Opting into a collective culture of support where kiwis everywhere are ready to notice someone in need of urgent mental health response, and are equipped with the right steps, seems to me like something New Zealand is crying out for.
We started imagining a Mental Health First Aid Course… We dreamt of normalising mental health so that we’re all no more weird about it than we are about our physical health. We knew that if we were going to make a difference to the stigma that exists around mental crisis, we would need to get a first aid equivalent off the ground, fast.
So where did the certified MHFA come from?
Our research led us to the MHFA, which is an internationally recognised certificate. Mental Health First Aid Australia championed the MHFA based on rigorous scientific studies. Now they have trained up 2 million Mental Health First Aiders world wide. Wow!
Last week I returned from Auckland, fully accredited as a MHFA Instructor, trained by Ko Awatea Health System Innovation and Improvement from the Counties Manukau District Health Board. Ko Awatea has updated the MHFA to be New Zealand relevant, and now it is in our hands, for the first time in Wellington.
The best thing is that the results of the MHFA have already been proven! Check out this quick description…
“…Evaluations consistently show that MHFA training is associated with improved knowledge of mental illnesses and their treatments, knowledge of appropriate first aid strategies, and confidence in providing first aid to individuals with mental illness, benefits which are maintained over time. Some studies have also shown improved mental health in those who attend the training, decreases in stigmatising attitudes and increases in the amount and type of support provided to others.”
Check out more about the origins of the programme here:
- Mental Health First Aid Australia | www.mhfa.com.au
- Ko Awatea, Counties Manukau | www.koawatea.co.nz
So now that it’s here, what’s the most exciting bit?
We are so excited to get people in the room to practice the hard conversations, to ask the hard questions, and to learn together in a safe practice-ground environment about how we can best recognise and respond in the times of need.
Of course, Mental health is complex, but it’s time for us to move past our blocks, overcome the fear of making things worse, and learn to respond confidently.
This training isn’t for professionals. It’s not setting people up to diagnose their friends with mental health conditions or to solve other peoples’ ongoing mental health challenges.
But what we are doing, is giving people the skills to connect individuals to the support they need in the moments when it might be hardest for them to do so. We are building confidence in individuals to lean in to the discomfort of those hard conversations. We are providing a testing ground for the “are you ok?”s and the “Have you had suicidal thoughts?” questions that can be frightening to ask in the moments where they are needed most. We know that these core skills can save lives.
And at the same time, we’ve got a strong hunch that lifting the mental health literacy of the general public will be a big step towards eliminating the stigma that has attached itself to mental health services and meaningful mental health conversations. I think knowledge leads to empathy, and empathy melts shame. That in turn leads people to feel more connected, which starts an upward spiral in the fertile soil of mental health challenges.
How is this different to the work CoLiberate is already doing?
At the moment a lot of the work we do is about helping people to engage with their wellbeing and have a positive, ongoing, pro-active relationship with their mind-health. The MHFA is new territory for CoLiberate in that it is focused on the crisis and distress end of the mental health continuum.
We see illness and wellness as very connected – especially given that shifts in our stages of wellness can be sudden and can happen often.
Our theory of change is that once people understand how to react to crisis and illness safely, they gain confidence to engage with mental health right across the fulls scope of experiences. It’s just not as scary to ask someone how they are feeling if you’re not quietly worried you’ll unravel a situation that makes you feel out of your depth.
If we are able to equip all New Zealanders to feel confident to recognise and respond appropriately to mental health crisis, not only do we believe that we will be able to save lives, but we will all be in a better position to value and understand the whole picture of mental health.
We’re really stoked to be able to bring our experience of hosting engaging, inclusive, creatively exciting workshops to the way that we deliver the MHFA programme. It’s a match made in heaven!!
What are your goals for MHFA in Wellington?
We want to see every single workplace in the Wellington to Palmy region equipped with at least one certified Mental Health First Aider. Imagine how quickly the impulse to respond well to crisis or distress would spread, if someone with the skills to respond well was on hand in every work situation.
What can Mental Health First Aiders be proud of?
- You are certified for two years with the confidence to respond to mental crisis or distress at any moment. Certificate provided by Mental Health First Aid New Zealand/Aotearoa.
- You are actively eliminating the stigma that unfortunately still exists around mental health, by acknowledging the equal relevance of a mental emergency to any other emergency.
- You are supporting CoLiberate, a largely volunteer-led young and active social organisation, to continue it’s good work in your community.
- You are joining the movement that will get us to a safer, healthier, happier New Zealand.