The power of language

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Last week I completed the MHFA England course and I’m now a certified mental health first aider.

I took part in the course because I coach and mentor individuals and I run workshops on mental resilience. All of this has links to mental health and I wanted to be equipped to help.

I have learnt a lot. Over four days we explored the definitions of mental health, and what the reality is around depression, anxiety, psychosis, eating disorders, suicide, self-harm and more.

There are a few things that stand out for me that I will be taking forward and changing after the week and I know for many of us on the course it has been a week of reflection for us individually as well.

There are some things that need to be clear though. Being a mental health first aider does not mean I am qualified as a counsellor or a medical professional and it is not my job to diagnose someone. This is an important distinction to make and one that can often be blurred and a misconception.

The ALGEE model

Just like physical first aid there is a model to follow and for mental health first aid it is ALGEE:

  • Approach, assist, assess
  • Listen and communicate non-judgementally
  • Give support and information
  • Encourage professional help
  • Encourage other help.

This model is applied to the different areas of mental illness and is the foundation of the course. The importance in the first two should not be underestimated, although the model is not linear.

The importance of language

The biggest lightbulb moment for me was the mental health continuum. There were several terms covered during this part of the course; specifically mental health and mental illness. What this taught me was that we use mental health as such a generic term that is has been misinterpreted.

Our mental health, like our physical health goes up and down. We can have really positive mental health while still experiencing a mental illness. They are different.

You might notice I used the word ‘experiencing’ in that sentence. That’s because using words like suffer is judgemental. Unless the person has said they are suffering, we cannot assume.

Language played an important role over the four days and I have already shared this video on both Facebook and Twitter this week. The animation that was shared on the course nicely demonstrates the points being made by Dr Brené Brown as she discusses the differences between sympathy and empathy.

These are the two things I said I would share with others as we reflected on the learning this week. We can all do a bit more to listen and communicate without judgement and we can all be mindful of our language as we address the stigma that is still very prevalent in society.

If you’re looking for resources to help in the workplace there are dedicated manuals on the MHFA website to help, especially for line managers.

If you want to explore how to build resilience to improve mental health, you can find out more about our mental resilience workshops for up to 15 people and we have a free download about building mentally resilient teams too.

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