We Are Youth Mental Health First Aiders

Our Latest Adventures

We have just settled back down in Plymouth, after an absolutely amazing three days away in London. I was invited to join a Youth Mental Health First Aid course my friend Michelle was hosting at her lovely home in London.

This time ten years ago, I was living at home in Guildford and commuting three days a week to Brixton. I was 17 years old and working with emerging digital & social media at socially responsible youth agency, Livity. I have kept in touch via Facebook over the years with the founder of Livity, Michelle Morgan.

Michelle is now working on her own new start-up, Pjoys: PJs with a purpose. She’s on a mission to make beautiful pyjamas, designed by brilliant artists. The purpose is to share everyday conversations about mental health – we can have both good and bad PJ days, as we have good and bad mental health.

Mental Health and Sailing

Michelle knows that I work with young people through sail training. The impact of youth mental health within the sail training community alone is huge.

In 2016 I had to deal with a 12-year-old girl taking off her lifejacket, standing at the edge of a vessel underway, and threatening to jump off. This is not a unique situation within the sail training world. But where is the support to deal with it? 

Outside of sail training, mental health still has a big impact on the maritime community. Working at sea can be a hard way of life, presenting risk factors for developing mental ill health. Last October, statistics sadly showed that seafarers are the second most at-risk profession from suicide. Data as recent as May 2017 shows that suicide is the top cause of seafarer deaths.

On the flip side, many of us turn to sailing as a therapeutic approach to help with our own mental health struggles. Sailing in itself can be a therapeutic and mindful activity, taking us out of our usual environment. It can also cause a lot of stress and anxiety!

SaltyJobs-2017-New-Year

Over the years, I have met many strong characters who have one way or another used sailing as a tool to help with their mental health. And I have equally met those who work around boats and really struggle with their heads. 

First Aid Courses

Where can we start in changing this? 

We all have to participate in a one-day physical first aid course as part of our commercial endorsements. The STCW basic safety training also focuses primarily on physical health – first aid, sea survival, fire fighting etc.

But what about mental health?

Mental health is the largest single burden of disease in the UK. Yes, bigger than any physical health issue.

I’d even go so far as to reckon that seafarers have higher prominence of mental health problems than the general population. That’s personal opinion based upon my own experiences working alongside professional sailors. Maybe it’s research that we need to carry out – the links above certainly hint towards it.

In the meantime, what can we do? Well, MHFA England have established a set of Mental Health First Aid courses for anyone to join. There are both adult and youth versions of the course, and one- and two-day options. You can also sign up to become an instructor, qualifying to deliver your own MHFA courses. 

An Awesome Invitation

Michelle also knows that I have my own personal experiences with mental health, which I’m keen to work more with. So, she invited me to stay with her family and take part in the Youth Mental Health First Aid Course she was running this March 2018.

I hopped on the train from Plymouth to Peckham. You couldn’t get me there sooner. I managed to avoid the snow-induced rail chaos, and instead enjoyed dreamy views of rolling Devonshire farmland:

Plymouth-to-Paddington-train-snow-SaltyJobs

I even made friends with this chap who boarded at Exeter with a big stag group. We chatted and then he fell asleep, with his fez, I took this selfie and his mates woke him up. We all laughed. Love those public transport moments of togetherness.

Fez-face-train

So the journey was awesome. And it gave me time to reflect on my own thoughts around mental health, especially with regards to young people.

Young People and Mental Health

Mental health is huge. And it’s all around us. We all have mental health – both good and bad. But many problems begin in childhood. Not only does mental ill health affect children and young people, but it will continue to impact their lives into adulthood if not treated. 

Mental health problems are extremely common: 1 in 10 young people will experience one in the course of a year. In reality, this means 1.3 million children have a diagnosable mental health disorder today.

Unfortunately, the resources to reach out to those children and deal with mental ill health are simply absolutely inadequate. Having struggled with my head throughout much of my life, I am pretty well clued up on the current UK mental health system. I know how it works – or at least, is supposed to work.

But there are some things that clearly do not work.  Getting help is hard. Getting the right help is even harder. There is an average 10-year delay between young people displaying the first symptoms of mental ill health, and getting help.

Teens have to face those years alongside a potent combination of changing childhood & environmental factors, and a spike in dopamine all adolescents experience. Mental health issues therefore often develop during teenage years. In fact, over half of mental ill health starts by 15, and 75% develops by age 18.

And the worst, but ultimately most important statistic of all: suicide is the most common cause of death for 15-34 year olds.

Approaching A Crisis Positively

These statistics are really sad.

But they also give us hope. There is real potential for early intervention here. We can help young people get the right support, so they don’t have to battle their heads alone for another 10 years. 

But how? How can we actually help? Where are these children and young people? Are we ignoring signs and symptoms of a developing problem in the teenagers around us? How can we deal with crisis situations?

Many people would feel daunted by the prospect of intervening in a mental health crisis. Members of the public, friends and family may be concerned that they might say the wrong thing, or make the situation worse. 

MHFA England exists to deliver Youth Mental Health First Aid training so that individuals can approach crisis situations with confidence. Knowing how to help could make all the difference to somebody’s life. 

The Two-Day Course

Michelle was an absolutely fantastic instructor, facilitator and host of the Youth MHFA two-day course. She brought together a wonderful group, with a mix of backgrounds and ages. Some of us were parents of teenagers, and others worked with young people in their jobs. 

At the beginning of the two days, we were introduced to the Mental Health First Aid action plan. It has five basic steps: ALGEE. This is a basic framework you can use in a mental health crisis situation:

Assess, approach, assist with any crisis
Listen and communicate non-judgmentally
Give support and information
Encourage appropriate professional help
Encourage other supports

Alongside this framework, we covered the following mental health disorders and behaviours:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-Harm
  • Suicide
  • Psychosis
  • Eating Disorders

We looked at the risk factors and warning signs for each, learning how to identify young people (and adults) who may be struggling with mental ill health. 

We also applied ALGEE to each behaviour and disorder, learning how to intervene in a first aid crisis for each possible situation. 

Our setting for the course in Michelle’s home was lovely, very calming and open. We broke out into the living spaces for group work, creating four teenage personas to illustrate different scenarios. There was a great mix of discussion, group work, presentation and reflection. (And tea, coffee, biscuits, fruit, and London’s 1st & 2nd best pizza!)

Michelle and her co-delivery partner Jeff shared the sessions between them. They worked really well together and complemented each other’s style. It was Jeff’s first delivery of the course after recently completing his instructor training. Jeff was also a fantastic teacher, reaching out to us on a personal and empathetic level. Thanks Jeff for sharing your valuable insight. 

Throughout the course, we kept coming back to ALGEE and it really reinforced its usage across all kinds of mental health first aid situations. 

This is a must-do for anybody who works or lives with young people. According to research, up to 88% of people use the first aid skills they learn during the course at least once. Not that we needed convincing, but that’s a pretty good reason to do it alone.

Even just going away and doing a course, being somewhere new and meeting a brand new group of people is a great experience in itself. I really enjoyed my time with Michelle and also exploring around Peckham’s Levels community car park redevelopment and the Bussey Building. It’s good just to get away and mindfully discover new places and people, whether on a boat or not.

Michelle’s husband Remi Rough designs these amazing urban paintings. We stumbled upon this one in the Peckham Levels. Lots of inspiration to take home.

But… OK… even better if a boat is involved. You can find salty stuff going on in London too! We met up with our friend Will, and new friend Ben from Salty Weekend, whist we were in town and went for a walk.

SaltyJobs-London-River-Thames

Great adventures, for a brilliant cause.

Become A Mental Health First Aider

Would you be interested in taking part in a Youth Mental Health First Aid course?

I’m passionate about helping Michelle achieve her goal of training more people as mental health first aiders. If we can focus it on sailing, that would be even more beneficial to our Salty community. Michelle and I think it would be great to run a joint course specifically for sailors and sail trainers. We could host this onboard a ship with accommodation & food. This would be awesome… a community & retreat in itself. 

If you’re interested, please let us know.

What’s Next?

Mental health, like I said, is not a new subject for me. It’s something that I have fought with my whole life. I’m lucky to have some amazing people around who support me (and SaltyJobs).

After Salty Weekend, it made me realise how important it is to me that I am in a community. Salty Weekend was an awesome experience and demonstration of how powerful a ship can be in creating this in such a short space of time, whether it is sea-going or not. I love salty ships, people, community. I am passionate about mental health. And I want to keep creating opportunities and facilitating life-changing experiences for people.

I travelled to the MHFA course with ideas of some kind of mental health retreat ship on my mind. Spending three days sharing mental health and wellbeing insights with a wonderful group inspired me further. 

I would love to start putting together plans around a ship-based community, with a focus on mental health wellness, retreat, volunteering and ‘open ship’ for way-layed sailors. I have begun to speak about it and have been met with some absolutely resoundingly supportive responses. No solid ideas yet, but:

Do you like the idea of a mental health community retreat ship?

If you’re interested in somehow getting involved, please leave a comment and/or send me a message.

Your comments: join the conversation

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