Would you be able to recognise the signs if someone has a mental health problem? Would you know how to help them? In Australia, around one in five adults will experience mental illness in any given year. Completing a Mental Health First Aid course can give you the skills to start a conversation and support a person until appropriate professional help is received or the crisis resolves.
The Far North Queensland town of Cardwell is a sleepy tropical paradise of rainforest, waterfalls and banana farms. However this tranquillity was broken in 2011 when Cyclone Yasi tore through the town, causing significant damage to homes, businesses and farms. JCU second year Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery student Harjyot Gill saw what the disaster did to her hometown and how it has continued to affect her family and friends.
“Farmers go through a lot of environmental, economic and financial stresses,” she says. “Seeing the impacts on my family and community made me feel helpless. I wanted to develop the knowledge and skills to support my community and to help them in their suffering.”
A desire to have a positive impact motivated Harjyot to study medicine. In her first year of study, she heard about a Mental Health First Aid course and signed up with friends from university. She says the practical and informative course gave her the tools to support people with mental health problems.
“I learnt the basic skills of Mental Health First Aid and how to recognise if someone was in trouble,” she says. “I strongly believe it’s never too late to ask for help. From the Mental Health First Aid course, I gained confidence in asking questions and encouraging others to seek help.”
After completing the course, Harjyot and her friends have a greater understanding of the value of peer support and self-care. She says the training removed any remaining stigma about mental health problems and increased her self-awareness and empathy.
“It’s so common and could happen to anyone,” Harjyot says. “Knowing what to do in these situations can make all the difference. The course has taught me not only how to support others but myself, too. I know that if I’m feeling stressed it’s beneficial to take a break and look after myself.”
Harjyot no longer feels helpless when someone close to her has a mental health problem. She has taken the skills she has learnt and is able to apply them in her community, family and university.
“The best thing about the training is that I learnt how important it is to talk to someone you are worried about,” she says. “I used to think that if someone is suicidal or depressed, asking them about it would make them dwell on it more. Now I know that expressing my concerns can help them open up, start a conversation and seek help. This still resonates with me today and will for years to come.”
Mental Health First Aid Australia offers a range of courses, from a standard course through to specialised training for medical students and nursing students. Queensland Mental Health Week runs from 8-14 October with a variety of events on around the state. For more information and support, visit beyondblue and Lifeline.
Feature image: shutterstock