Taking a Mental Health First Aid Course Can Be Helpful For You and Those Around You

Taking a first aid training course teaches you the basics of emergency life support and resuscitation, which are extremely important skills to have should a crisis strike. But, have you considered sharpening up your mental health first aid skills in order to be of help to yourself and others around you?

There is such a thing as a mental health first aid course, which is also known as “suicide first aid”, and it can be taught just like CPR and physical first aid can be.

What is suicide first aid?

According to Lifeline, Australia’s largest suicide prevention service provider, eight Australians die by suicide every day — this is more than double the road toll. 75% of these people who take their own lives are male.

Suicide is actually the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44 and the suicide rate in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is twice of their non-Indigenous counterparts. To say suicide is an issue in Australia would be an understatement.

Given these stats, something like a mental health first aid course should be taught in schools and workplaces across the country in order to improve our collective proficiency in dealing with mental health challenges.

One such organisation that provides these courses is LivingWorks. For more than 30 years, LivingWorks has developed and delivered programs with the goal of saving lives from suicide. And, while the thought of learning these suicide intervention skills might be daunting, it’s something everyone can do.

“Anyone can learn the skills to identify when someone near them has thoughts of suicide, and to act to keep them safe,” LivingWorks CEO Shayne Connell told triple j’s Hack. “At some point in our lives, we’ll be in a situation where someone near us is thinking of suicide. It’s just a question of whether or not we will know it, we will be able to realise and identify that.”

LivingWorks offers a number of online suicide prevention training sessions, including an introductory one that runs for 90 minutes and teaches you how to recognise when someone is having suicidal thoughts and how to respond in order to keep them safe.

For something a little more in-depth, Mental Health First Aid Australia provides a 12-hour course that can be delivered as a two-day training package of six hours per day or four separate modules that take three hours each.

Like LivingWorks, Mental Health First Aid Australia’s course teaches you how to assist an adult who may be experiencing a mental health problem or crisis until appropriate professional help is received.

Why bother when mental health care professionals exist?

While psychologists, counsellors and other various mental health care professionals do exist to help people with their mental health, many don’t feel comfortable asking for help due to the taboo that still exists around mental health.

According to LivingWorks, someone having thoughts of suicide is more likely to reach out to their friends, family, colleagues or online communities, making it super important for you to have the skills to help when they do.

While taking a mental health first aid course won’t provide you with the skills of a psychologist, it will inform how you respond when someone confides in you that they are struggling.

“The course can’t teach you to spot a lie or make someone talk to you who doesn’t want to, but it gives you insight into what to look for, ways around a difficult conversation, and provides you with enough knowledge to be able to tell someone what they might be able to access — services in your state, how to ask about mental health with a GP, for example,” Carol Rääbus wrote for ABC Life, after taking such a course.

Research has shown this conversation training to be extremely helpful when used in real-life circumstances.

“We have almost 20 years of research behind it … it shows that it does make a difference,” Claire Kelly, the director of research and curriculum with Mental Health First Aid Australia, told ABC Life.

“It improves people’s skills, it improves their confidence in having these conversations, it improves recognition of potential problems, and it is making a profound difference in people’s lives.”

While taking such a course won’t give you all the answers, it will help you become more equipped to deal with your own mental health hurdles, as well as those of the people around you. For more information, visit LivingWorks and Mental Health First Aid Australia.

If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here.

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