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World Mental Health Day - it's good to talk

On World Mental Health Day Emma Jones discusses psychological first aid and welcomes Mental Health First Aid England's 'Take 10 Together' campaign

Emma Jones specialises in human rights claims relating to the treatment and care individuals receive in hospitals, schools and in social care settings, false imprisonment and assault claims, actions against the police and public law challenges.
The focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day is psychological first aid, or PFA for short.

The idea is that PFA is to assist individuals who have been involved in a crisis and to provide psychological support after a crisis.  The crisis can be large scale, such as a natural disaster, war and terrorist attacks or disease outbreaks, but it can also be individual such as a robbery, assault or an accident. It might be something that happens to the individual themselves of something they witness. It might be something that to some might seem a bit trivial, but to that person is huge.

PFA has been around since the 1940s, but in a world where it seems crisis is much more common it is being used again.  I think it is a great idea, providing some front line support to people who have in something terrible and traumatic – maybe something large scale or maybe something individual.  It’s about providing practical care and support, it’s about listening, it’s about comforting people and helping them to feel calm.

The practical side of things includes helping to address basic needs, food, water and shelter – helping people to connect to the services they need such as social services and benefits assistance.

But it is also about talking to people.  A really good thing about PFA is that it is not something that only professionals can do; you don’t need a clinical background or training; you do not have to be a counsellor. 

Mental Health First Aid England is calling on everyone to “Take 10 Together” – to check in on someone – a friend, a colleague, a family member.  Just take a few minutes out to have a chat – to make sure that the person next to you is doing ok.  Surely that cannot be that difficult; surely we can all spare a few minutes?  But sometimes I wonder.  I was on the tube this morning – not a great place for social interaction I know. Out of the 20 people in my carriage 15 were looking at phones and of that 15, 12 had on headphones.  I wonder if we are all overloading ourselves with “stuff” so much that we cannot find space to have a chat; room in our cluttered lives and heads just to check in on our neighbour.

I know it is hard to do; at 09:30 this morning – I had been at my desk with colleagues around me since 08:00 – aside from good morning and do you want a cup of tea we had not communicated.  I don’t think it is actually that difficult to add – how are you?  But the hard thing is then sparing the time to hear how they are – or is it?  Ten minutes, that is all it takes to start, to have a chat.  More than 57% of employees say they have experienced mental health issues at work but at least half don’t feel they can talk about it.

Actually taking time to talk to the people we know rather than just sending a quick text or a Facebook message – liking what they had for breakfast that morning.  It’s about actually having to engage in conversation – I know it’s scary and I know we no longer have time to talk or the space for someone else’s issues, but we need to try to bring back the art of conversation – and make it meaningful conversation.  I am going to try today; I am going to ask a colleague how they are and I am actually going to mean that question; I am actually going to have time to listen to what they say rather than stare blankly at them whilst thinking about whether I did like the picture of my sister’s breakfast this morning.

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