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Highlighting psychological first aid

Each year on 10 October, the World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme was psychological first aid and the support people can provide to those in distress.

Despite increased awareness, I think that being honest about our mental health remains one of society’s taboos.  We find it much easier to respond to someone with a broken leg than someone with a broken heart. Those who are bereaved often report a period where those closest to them stay away, to ‘allow them to grieve in privacy’. Grieving is a multi-dimensional process which is unpredictable and painful for all involved and sometimes, we stay away because we find it too difficult.

Mental health problems frighten us.  When someone is crying and unable to pull themselves together, or behaves in a self-destructive way, then we are out of our comfort zone.  Perhaps we are afraid to admit that ‘it could be us’, too.

The assumption that most of us are fine, with just a few suffering with their mental health is wrong.  One in four of us will access some form of mental health service in our lifetimes and one in 10 of us would benefit from some support right now.

Many of us have periods where we find some persistent thoughts and feelings distressing and confusing at some stage in our lives, but many of us find ways of coping, distracting ourselves and finding a way to reduce the symptoms - from nights out, exercise, mindfulness, art and socialising to self help books or talking to a counsellor.

What is psychological first aid?

Psychological first aid is concerned with what we can do to help each other.  We know that we can make a real difference to those close to us but what are the right things to do?

By listening to them, being respectful and recognising that they are distressed and upset anyone can help just by being a shoulder to cry on. Be sure not to make any judgments, or jump to solutions, but allow them to express their emotions. Distract them if you can – maybe make a cup of tea or suggest they take the dog for a walk.

Every honest, open, compassionate conversation we have about our mental health can help reduce stigma and fear and challenge the stereotypes about ‘the mentally ill’. I firmly believe that we need to create an environment where people can share their experiences so that it becomes easier for people to deal with a mental health issue.

Time to Change is a growing movement working to transform how we all think and act about mental health. It’s a great example of what can be achieved when we work together.

How does Northorpe Hall Child & Family Trust help young people and their families?

At Northorpe Hall Child & Family Trust we work to improve children's mental and emotional health by providing support activities in comfortable, non-clinical environments where children can feel safe and secure.

Anyone can call us to talk about their concerns about a child’s emotional health.  The calls we receive are answered by our professional and caring team who listen and empathise, helping to boost the children’s self esteem and encourage them to share how they are feeling. We listen carefully to children and the adults caring for them and make informed decisions about the support we can offer them.

It’s tough being a young person today.  In some ways they are so lucky, with more money and opportunities, but there’s more pressure and less consistency in the world and life has become more complex. Social media and fragmented families, exam results shaping life chances and families under financial pressure can contribute to difficulties. Being brought up in poverty and having parents with mental health problems or addiction puts children at higher risk, but any child can experience mental ill-health, hit a crisis and need support.

Last year, we supported over 1,500 children, mostly aged 12-16 years old. Feedback from children and families is overwhelmingly positive, with 80% reporting improvements in their wellbeing following support and 95% of the appointments made with our support workers are attended.  We believe that the key to this success is the way we value and respect young people and families, listening to their stories and views and offering help and advice in response to their priorities and needs.

With more children than ever before seeking help for mental health problems we are continuing to expand our services and recruit new workers.  If you would like to work with us, in a partnership as an organisation or as a volunteer or paid worker, please get in touch.

By Tom Taylor, director at Northorpe Hall Child & Family Trust

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