Go Think Big Project Co-ordinator Charlotte discusses how becoming a Youth Mental Health First Aider has helped her to better support young people in her role.
Having studied Psychology at University I have always been interested in human behaviour and throughout my studies I became more and more interested in mental health, not only the scientific side of mental illness, but how we can help support those with poor mental health. I volunteered as Peer Supporter in my second and third year of university, where I helped to support other students (usually first year students) with their wellbeing and advise them around any issues they may have been facing. I helped support these students with a wide range of issues, all of which were impacting their wellbeing and mental health – this sparked my interest in mental health and I realised that we could all help and make a difference.
In my current role, I help young people to carry out 6-month social action projects in their local community. I am in contact with young people every-day, and although this is not always face to face they often need support with their project. This support is often practical, for example helping to set goals, however it can also be focused around their wellbeing and mental health. For instance, many project leaders who I speak to are balancing studying, a part time job, as well as a social action project – this can at times be stressful and overwhelming. I wanted to become a Youth Mental Health First Aider because I had not only heard positive feedback about the course, but I really wanted to be able to offer support to young people. My colleague had already done the course and said it was brilliant, so this motivated me even more to get myself booked on. During my time at National Youth Agency I have worked with young people who really do need mental health support and there have been times when I’ve wanted to help, but I felt I lacked the knowledge and confidence to do so. This is where the course has really equipped me with the necessary skills to help as many young people as I can.
I thought the course was really informative and what I liked about it was the informality of the course and how everybody felt comfortable and open to asking questions. I think this is especially important when discussing mental health, as it can be a very sensitive topic and the areas covered were hard hitting and at times upsetting. I thought that the content and flow of the training worked well, as it struck a good balance between learning about different mental health disorders, discussing these disorders then applying this knowledge to help a young person in a realistic scenario.
The course has not only helped me to support young people with their mental health but it has equipped me with knowledge that I can pass on. Many of the projects that are carried out are focused around mental health – doing this course has widened my perspective and it has encouraged me to think about areas I might not have considered. I am able to advise project leaders about the importance of implementing strategies, particularly when discussing mental health, as this is often a sensitive topic and it could trigger negative feelings and behaviour. I have also encouraged them to think about the risks of carrying out a mental health project, for instance could they have the support of a mental health charity? It is this knowledge that is really important and it allows young people to carry out more effective and valuable projects.
The Mental Health First Aid Youth Course has also allowed me to support a friend, whose brother was experiencing suicidal thoughts and unfortunately made an attempt to take his own life, just a few weeks after I took the course. Prior to the training, I did not know how to talk about suicide and I almost felt awkward discussing it – I felt I didn’t have the expertise and to a certain extent did not understand it. The course taught me that it is about having an open conversation and simply asking the question – this is what is important. Although I did not speak to her brother directly I was able to help my friend and support her as much as I could just by listening and being someone that she could turn to. I was able to signpost her to useful resources, thanks to the manual I received, and I made sure that I remained non-judgemental, which helped to keep her calm during a very difficult time.
I think this course is so valuable and you never know when you might be in a situation where you’ll need to use ALGEE and help someone in need. If we all had this training, we could make a huge impact to people’s lives. I have taken away a huge amount from it and I think it is very relevant, as we all experience mental health. Most importantly, this training has allowed me to help others and to me that is amazing! I am proud to be Youth Mental Health First Aider. Thank you Mel and Gail for delivering the course.