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Why Do We Need Mental Health First Aiders?

Mental First Aiders- ‘People trained to notice signs and symptoms, to assist and respond – when it’s needed and before it’s too late. Because the earlier the intervention and treatment, the better and faster the outcome.’

Imagine you’re an 11-year-old in school. It’s lunchtime, and you’re playing with your mates in the playground, and a parkour trick goes horribly wrong. Your mates laugh because THAT was a spectacular fail and you lie there stunned for a few minutes knowing that you’ve really hurt yourself. You try to join in the laughter and get to your feet, because you don’t want to make a big thing of it. This is embarrassing, right? Just pretend you’re OK – in a few minutes this will pass and everything will go back to normal.

A duty teacher comes over – she’s seen what happened and is concerned for you. “Have you hurt your head?” she asks. “Are you OK?” A supervisor comes over – she knows your mum. “Are you alright?” she asks, looking you over – there’s no bleeding, no wound to see. Most of your friends are starting to wander off. You get back on your feet, and the bell rings. You find your bag and slowly walk with your mate to the next lesson. He’s worried about you, because he saw you fall, sees that you’re not talking, not quite yourself. But you tell him you’re OK, because you’re still embarrassed, because you don’t want the attention, don’t want more people to know what happened.

In class, you’re feeling really ‘swimmy’, and you feel a bit sick. The teacher asks if you’re OK and you say you are, and you try to write, to show her things are normal. It’s home time soon, and you can last it out.

You get home. It’s a busy house, people on their mobiles, lots going on in the kitchen. You go up to your room to have a lie-down – and when you wake up, there’s a paramedic sitting on the side of your bed. And you’ve been sick everywhere, and you still feel swimmy. And you hear your Dad saying, “Why did no-one notice this at school?”

It probably wouldn’t happen like this would it? There would have been a medical First-Aider in the playground – a member of staff who was trained to assist and respond. An accident report would probably have been completed. In class, a teacher would generally have been medically first aid trained or, at least, aware. In some schools, even pupils are first-aid trained and would have known how to help, or how to get help.

It’s why we need mental health first Aiders. People trained to notice signs and symptoms, to assist and respond – when it’s needed and before it’s too late. Because the earlier the intervention and treatment, the better and faster the outcome.

Mental health first aiders aren’t the professionals, the fixers, the menders. No more than a medical first aider is a paramedic, or a doctor. But mental heath first aiders are just as necessary when dealing with the holistic health of our young people. Because mental health is just as important as physical health.

Whatever you think about the Tweets above, and the opinions on social media about government policy, the education curriculum and the state of our mental health services – it doesn’t take away from the fact that more of our young people than ever before need preventative measures and early intervention for their mental health from those of us who work, and interact, with them.

Worth thinking about for your setting?

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The author

Jo FitzGerald taught for 17 years in the Middle East before returning to England with her family. Having lost close family members to suicide, and been Deputy-Head of a PRU, she now works to improve the wellbeing and resilience skills of our young people through her work with families and schools. Her company ‘Tiny Sponges’ is also the UK distributor for a series of Danish resources, used in schools across Denmark, which help teach positive mindset and the VIA character strengths to children aged 7 – 15 years. She also runs ‘primary2secondary’ with TV Parenting Expert Sue Atkins, helping parents and their children through the transition from Year 6 to Year 7.

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