John Rotter, Marketing & Communications Assistant at MHFA England, tells us his experiences with the Adult MHFA Two Day course and the reasons why mental health literacy matters to him.

When I started working for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England in May, the first thing I was asked was whether I’d like to attend an Adult or Youth MHFA course. Being offered this opportunity is not only a great way to develop my skill set, but also, I could see it being a useful self-management tool to help manage my own stress whilst at work.

Having gone through adolescence with my mother diagnosed with bipolar disorder and my father having anxiety, I felt that I needed to take the Adult MHFA course as most of my childhood was spent thinking that mental health was simply unmanageable. My attitude towards mental health was definitely a by-product of the stigma around mental health; the stigma which MHFA England aims to reduce by having Mental Health First Aid provision in every workplace.

When I arrived on the first of the two days, I felt my usual nerves and apprehension at the thought of meeting new people, quite a common reaction for me. Although I haven’t been diagnosed with any form of anxiety, I’m acutely aware that meeting new people can be difficult for me and I have a habit of over-thinking and catastrophising any conversations before I’ve even opened my mouth.

As we waited on the rooftop terrace of a community centre in Angel, the glorious sunshine and vast skyline was a sight to behold. I immediately felt at ease when I met the first people who would be training with me; two women from the construction industry, who made me feel like we were good friends and raised my confidence for the course.

As more people arrived though, I started to worry that if I was nervous around these people, how would I be able to help a potential stranger in an emergency?

We were joined by our MHFA instructor, who took us into the room where we’d spend the next two days learning about mental health in depth and how best to react when we were faced with a potential crisis. The instructor was warm in her demeanour, which raised my confidence initially, and then through various group exercises I began to feel more comfortable around the rest of the group. This was a massive factor in how much I took away from the course, as learning such emotionally-charged topics needed everyone on the course to work together respectfully, which I felt my group succeeded in throughout both days.

I came into the course with the worry that my nervous nature wouldn’t serve me well if I was needed to help someone in their time of need. These concerns were soon resolved as we learned how to use non-judgemental listening to empathise with someone who might be experiencing a mental health issue. Thinking back to how I would act around my mother during one of her (many) episodes of mental ill health reminded me how little I had empathised. Being unable to separate my mother from her illness was difficult for me, I would resent her outbursts and would often believe her when she blamed me for her actions.

Having spent the two days training with people from such diverse industries – there were life coaches, people from finance, construction and police – some of the most valuable experiences on the course were the honest and frank conversations I had with people in such a safe space. There were no wrong questions to ask – and that’s what really stuck with me, long after the course had finished; we don’t have the answers to everything, sometimes we just need to ask the questions.