Last year in October I took part in a panel discussion for Cyber House Party about mental health and why it is so important to look after our mental health. During the panel discussion we also talked about our strategies and coping mechanisms for when our mental health is not great, and during the rehearsal session one of the panellists mentioned that he was a mental health first aider.
Up until that point I had never heard of such a thing, and I was really intrigued. I had done First Aid at Work training, although my certification has expired. As I have been working solely from home since 2015, even before the pandemic hit, I had not got round to undertaking a refresher course for it.
The previous month I was asked to give a talk to the Worcester Ethical Hackers Group, and I chose to focus my talk on “Managing Stress and Burnout in Infosec”. As part of my talk and putting a slide deck together for it I was referred by Club CISO to “Thrive” and their Managing Director Simon Nichols, who kindly helped to input into my slide deck for the talk from a mental health perspective. They say that life happens when you are busy making other plans, and on the evening that I was supposed to give the talk to the Worcester Ethical Hacking Group I was rushing my beloved dog to a specialist vets in Solihull with my husband as she was very ill and had gone completely off her legs. It turned out she had a burst disc in her back, and although she avoided surgery for it, her recovery was a long process.
It turned out that “Thrive” offered the Mental Health First Aider course in partnership with another training provider, and I didn’t hesitate to sign up to do the course in November last year. However, as it got close to the time that I was supposed to take it, I realised that I just was not in the right frame of mind to do it. My beloved dog being taken so ill and my Dad being in hospital in September last year fighting sepsis took its toll on me, and my own mental health suffered. I realised that I was in no fit state to take the course at that time, so I contacted Simon Nicol to explain the situation and ask if I could defer the course to the following year, even though I had already paid for it.
Not only was Simon really understanding and rescheduled my course to 19-21 January, he also asked me if I would like a “check in chat” with him, which I took him up on. I could not believe how nice it was of him to check with me to see how I was doing, and while the truth was that I wasn’t doing so great, it helped me a lot to know that I wasn’t alone.
Christmas and new year came and went, and earlier this month we were placed back in lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Despite this I entered 2021 with a renewed energy for my work and I was determined to make the best of things, motor on with my goals and take the course as planned.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started the course, or how it would make me feel. I was prepared for it to bring up things that would be painful for me, and scheduled quiet time in my diary around the 2 main course days.
The course gave me insights into my mental health that have helped me greatly. I don’t want to give too much away here, especially for someone who is thinking of doing the course, but it helped me immensely when it comes to asking the right questions if I suspect that someone is struggling and signposting them to the right help, organisations and resources. I was reassured to find that I was already doing a lot of what was covered on the course from a technique’s perspective, but it helped me to frame it in a different way when it comes to helping people. A big motivator for me is the fact that there have been some awful things happen to my friends on Twitter and LinkedIn, things that really affected their mental health, and I hoped that the course would provide me with the knowledge and resources to know that I am on the right lines with how I help them. It certainly did that and more.
The ALGEE acronym will be forever imprinted in my brain now. We also learnt listening techniques and how to help someone with specific mental health condition such as anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, psychosis and how to talk to someone who was contemplating committing suicide.
The discussions around suicide were very painful for me, but nevertheless I shared my experiences. In the late 1990s my ex-husband and I helped our then next-door neighbour when his wife committed suicide. Talking about suicide in the course brought this experience to the forefront of my mind again, but one thing I know is that if someone is hell bent on taking their own life, they will find a way to do it. I would never think that someone who was thinking that way was crying wolf; and while most times it is often a cry for help or for someone, anyone to help them you cannot ignore it if someone says they want to take their own life.
Also, in many cases as it was with my next-door neighbour, there will be NO warning signs at all. To this day I still cannot believe she did it, I heard her laughing and joking with her husband in the garden on the very afternoon of the day she took her own life. By the evening, she had gone. I felt so guilty for such a long time, but there was nothing I could do. Talking about this in the course helped me to finally understand that, and to gain long overdue closure from what happened to my next-door neighbour. I hope she is at peace now.
The trainers Simon Nichols and Ross Abbott were both very insightful and very professional. I cannot recommend the course enough and think that every organisation should have a mental health first aider no matter what their size. It makes me very angry that organisations don’t take the mental health of their employees seriously, especially during these challenging times with the coronavirus pandemic. For some reason things are weighted towards the business and not the employee when it should be the other way round, after all, a business wouldn’t be anything without their employees. So many businesses don’t look after their employees today, which is very sad. Worse, many have lost their jobs for admitting they have struggled with their mental health.
If you are thinking of taking the mental health first aid course, I recommend you take it through “Thrive”. I also can’t thank Simon Nichols and Ross Abbott enough, they inadvertently allowed me to have a platform to share my biggest phobia (something I had never done before) and a place to acknowledge that mental health is important, and if we don’t look after ourselves first and foremost, we cannot help anyone else. I chose to put my mental health first last November when I asked to defer taking the course until this month; it paid dividends and allowed me to be the best I could be when taking the course this month.
If anyone reading this is struggling, please do not struggle alone – reach out to me. I cannot do much, but I can listen, and I can help and signpost you to resources and organisations that will help you. We might be isolated and cut off from each other in a face-to-face capacity, but we can talk on the phone and video calls, and I am always happy to do that.