Mental Health First Aid – Teaching an old dog new tricks

8th July 2022

Mental Health First Aid – Teaching an old dog new tricks


Leading and managing have been a major part of my life for nearly 25 years now. They have brought me fulfilment and frustration in equal measure and, as you can imagine, I have encountered a huge number of different situations. I have developed teams and individuals who’ve received awards and promotions but have also had to deal with poor performance and worse. I’ve had the joy of celebrating births and marriages with my team but have also had to support staff and their relatives through illness and death. Life as a line manager is a rollercoaster ride for which training can only ever partially prepare you. Now I’ve attended my fair share of good courses, overacted in many role-plays and fallen in several ponds during practical leadership exercises but nothing can teach you how to empathise, communicate and lead more than experience. That said, I’ve just completed a course to become a Mental Health First Aider that I wish I had been able to do 25 years ago.

Mental Health First Aid image

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is the initial help offered to a person experiencing a mental health issue or crisis until appropriate professional help is received or until the crisis appears to resolve. It is typically provided by someone who is not a mental health professional but is within the person’s social network such as a family member or work colleague. MHFA can literally save lives but is not nearly as well recognised as its physical counterpart due to stigma and a widespread lack of understanding. The 2-day Adult Mental Health Aider course provided by Mental Health First Aid England aims to address this gap by enabling attendees to recognise signs and symptoms of common mental health conditions and to equip them with the knowledge, confidence and skills to act as a first responder for someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

My course was led by the inspirational Juliet Adloune from Listening Lantern Mental Health Training with delegates (apart from myself) coming mainly from the education sector. Over the 2 days, we learned about the realities of mental health: how common it is; the impact of different mental health conditions; and the stigma and discrimination that mental health attracts. Thanks to Juliet’s insistence on learning by rote, I can now never forget the MHFA Action Plan that guides how you should approach those needing support which is based on the acronym ALGEE:

·       Approach, assess and assist with any crisis

·       Listen and communicate non-judgementally

·       Give support and information

·       Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help

·       Encourage other supports

While the course materials were excellent, I think we almost learned more from the discussions, exercises and examples shared amongst ourselves and Juliet than we did from the presentation slides. As a warning you will leave the MHFA course emotionally drained, possibly having shed a tear or two.


So why was this course such a revelation for me?

Self care isn't selfish

Firstly, learning how common mental health issues are and how to spot them has made me reflect on the situations over the years when I could (and perhaps should) have done more and how much more of a difference I could have made.

Secondly, I now realise the need to draw a clear distinction between every day and MHFA conversations and, perhaps more importantly, the importance of kerbing my natural instinct to relate and empathise when listening (non-judgementally) to someone in a mental health crisis situation.

Thirdly, the importance of self-care is now clear to me; supporting others impacts on your own wellbeing and it is therefore OK to have regular ‘me-time’ without feeling guilty.

Finally, I now have the knowledge and confidence to approach situations involving potential suicide or self-harm; I have dealt successfully with these in the past but only at considerable cost to my own emotional state.

As I start to provide MHFA cover within CMC I am looking to set up a network with my MHFA colleagues for mutual support and to identify and implement ways of improving the care we provide.

I hope that reading this article raises your interest in mental health and MHFA. I can thoroughly recommend this course and am more than willing to discuss my experiences at any time. Please don’t leave things as long as I did!!


by Mark Dalrymple-Smith, Principal Consultant at CMC Partnership Consultancy Ltd