An estimated one in four adults will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives, making mental disorders one of the main causes of overall disease burden worldwide. In the ISRCTN Registry mental health studies are some of the most commonly registered, second only to cancer research, with more than 1,830 registrations.
Since 1992, every year on October 10th the World Health Organization recognizes World Mental Health Day. When people experience a crisis, it can fall on anyone to help. A crisis can come in many shapes and sizes – from experiencing the sudden loss of a loved one to losing everything in a natural disaster or war. When it comes to our mental health, most people need a helping hand to get back on track after a crisis. It’s no secret that mental health care is shockingly underfunded, with a huge number of sufferers not getting the help they need.
When it comes to our mental health, most people need a helping hand to get back on track after a crisis
The theme this year is Dignity in Mental Health – Psychological & Mental Health First Aid for All. Although psychological first aid (PFA) and mental health first aid (MHFA) are certainly nothing new – dating back to pre-WWII – they have become a recognized way of improving mental health literacy with the potential to help many.
So, what are psychological and mental health first aid being used for?
With the horrific images of war plastered over the news each day, it’s little wonder that we often forget the crises closer to home. Being a victim of a crime is a particularly common one. In already vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, crime can lead to an increase in anxiety and depression, which can greatly impact quality of life. For example, in this study, the study team is working on a Victim Improvement Package which uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as a type of mental health first aid to prevent the development of anxiety and depression in older people who have been victims of serious crime.
The police are generally not mental health experts – and nor should they be – but they are still often the first responders
A significant amount of police time is spent dealing with incidents involving people who are mentally vulnerable. The police are generally not mental health experts – and nor should they be – but they are still often the first responders and required to deliver some form of psychological first aid in order to deal with vulnerable individuals. This study looks at the effectiveness of a face-to-face mental health training intervention delivered by mental health practitioners to police personnel. In another study, which was recently published in BMC Psychiatry, MHFA is also drawn upon to try and improve working conditions and mental health knowledge in the police department of the south-eastern Australian state of Victoria.
Those who have dedicated their life to helping others may forget that the need to look after their own mental well-being is just as important. For example, medical students may be reluctant to seek professional help and rely more on friends, due to the stigma that’s sometimes attached to mental health problems. This study from the University of Nottingham delivers an online MHFA course to medical students, to find out whether it can help students to better support friends with mental health problems and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
Medical students may be reluctant to seek professional help and rely more on friends, due to the stigma attached to mental health problems
Teachers across the world are a major target for MHFA training. Dealing with children and adolescents can be challenging, but being able to spot when there is a serious problem with a child’s mental health that could be damaging in the long term could be even harder. The WISE study that is run out of Bristol University is an exciting pilot study looking at the effectiveness giving teachers MHFA training, so they are able to recognize signs of stress and provide initial support for both colleagues and students.
A call for better understanding
Despite improvements in recent years, mental illness is still surrounded by stigma and poor understanding. By promoting a clearer understanding of psychological and mental health first aid, this campaign could be the bridge to a brighter future for those experiencing a crisis.