Established in Australia in 2000, Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) courses are now attended by staff from businesses of all sizes and not just big corporations. Being able to provide someone trained to help their colleagues who may be struggling with their own mental wellbeing is something many dental practices have recognised as a huge benefit to them. It has also become especially important since so many people in the dental profession, as well as the wider community, reported they were experiencing poor mental health.
As part of our commitment to supporting dental teams, we have been subsidising the costs of courses for Practice Plan members over the past few years and will be running more in the near future (find out dates here) led, once again by former paramedic and mental health specialist, Andy Elwood.
Here Andy explains what the course involves and how it can benefit practices and their teams.
‘The aim of the course is to equip people with the knowledge and the toolkit to be able to help other people in need of support with their mental health. So, by the end of the course, they will be able to recognise the signs and symptoms in others of mental ill health; know how to help someone initially and be able to guide them towards sources of help.
The structure of the course has changed a bit in the past two or three years. Pre-pandemic, the course was delivered over two days, face-to-face. Obviously, the stresses and strains of COVID meant the need for MHFA courses was greater than ever, so we moved it online to make sure people could still gain access to it. So, now the content is delivered through four virtual group sessions, which is about nine hours, and these are supplemented by self-study before each session. All this equates to around 16 hours in total. During the group sessions, I use breakout groups, case studies, quizzes and discussions to get the information across to people.
Getting employees MHFA trained is recognised as being a great thing for businesses to do, not just for staff wellbeing, but for the bottom line, too. A study by consultants Deloitte, published in January 2020, showed poor mental health of employees costs UK businesses between £42bn-£45bn a year in absenteeism, presenteeism (turning up at work when you should be off ill which means you’re not firing on all cylinders) and turnover costs. The same study showed that for every £1 invested in employee mental health the return was around £5, and even higher in some circumstances.
If the human benefits weren’t enough of an argument in favour of MHFA, then a 5:1 return on investment is pretty good by most people’s standards!
Over the years the course content has been simplified a bit to make them more accessible. I have done a bit of tailoring of my own over time, too. I have lengthened some of the discussion sessions as I have found that some useful examples come out of them.
These sessions give participants a chance to share things they have tried or circumstances they have come up against, which gives their fellow participants some great tangible, real-world scenarios. Because it’s a fellow course member’s genuine experience it resonates with them, so I have made sure there is enough time for them to happen.
Supporting people who are struggling can be quite draining, and we cover this on the course, so there is an emphasis on self-care and making sure you put on your own oxygen mask first, as they tell you to do in a pre-flight safety demo. You can’t support other people effectively if you’re not looking after yourself.
It can be quite hard going on the course at times. However, people who have had experience of poor mental health often become really good MHFAs because they can empathise with someone experiencing that. They know what it’s like as they have been there themselves.
However, if you’re going through a tough time, then it may be better to delay joining a course until you are feeling better able to cope with things and wait for a later group.
I am always happy to have a chat with people if they are interested in booking onto a course but are feeling a little apprehensive about any of the aspects of it. I explain that sharing personal experiences is not compulsory and if there any exercises they don’t feel comfortable taking part in, they’re free to sit them out. An informal chat can usually put people’s minds at rest about things.
If you think being MHFA-trained would be a good thing for you and your practice, you can find out how to book onto the next course here.
Andy Elwood is a Mental Health First Aid instructor and an ambassador for Movember. He creates safety and trust by sharing his own vulnerability and gives a unique ‘behind the scenes’ insight into life and death situations from his 20 years’ experience working in the emergency services as a paramedic on search and rescue helicopters.