Opinion: Could you save a life?

As a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate I have received emails from St John Ambulance and from the British Red Cross, both wishing to promote First Aid. But what about mental health first aid? With equal parity now being given to mental and physical health, shouldn’t First Aid include Mental Health First Aid?

I think so. And I am pleased that Lib Dems at conference thought so too, for we approved new mental health policy which included a clause I submitted with the support of Oxford East:

To consult with external bodies on the content of, and how best to include training in, Mental Health First Aid, with a view to incorporating elements of Mental Health First Aid into existing First Aid at Work courses.

Imagine the world before First Aid classes, before people were taught the recovery position and CPR. Before such training, if someone was ill people would flap and call for help. They would not get involved.

The same thing happens when people are in mental health crisis. People feel inadequate, have no idea how to help, and do not get involved.

By requiring First Aid training in mental health…what to do if someone is threatening suicide, self-harm, is having a panic attack and can’t breathe, is psychotic and convinced of a threat very real to them, is hearing voices telling them to do something…we are enabling work colleagues, teachers, by-standers, everyone, to recognise what is happening and to do the right thing. Or not to do the wrong thing!

What to do or not to do when someone is in mental health crisis is so very important. Who to call, whether that is 999, the local Mental Health Crisis Team, a safeguarding officer, or a friend of the person in need, is a judgement call which requires training and insight into how best to help someone in crisis.

One of the main barriers that still needs to be broken down is getting people to recognise that in mental health crisis it is the illness speaking and not the person. There continues to be so much blame attached to being mentally ill. And so much misunderstanding. By requiring mental health first aid training of some sort, we would not only get the right help to the person experiencing crisis, but it would also mean that thousands of people up and down the country would have more insight and greater knowledge of mental ill health.

I have volunteered for a number of years in mental health through church. I have friends who are psychiatrists and psychologists, so my level of understanding is fairly high. Last year I had the opportunity to go on a Mental Health First Aid course. My first instinct was to say I didn’t have time, that I already had skills and that further training wasn’t necessary. I was wrong. Just as in physical First Aid, best practice moves on, treatments change, techniques develop, and being up-to-date is important. I’m glad I went on the MHFA course and I hope that elements of Mental Health First Aid are incorporated into mainstream First Aid courses as soon as possible.

* Kirsten Johnson is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Oxford East and a member of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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