Jane McNeice, MHFA instructor and director of Mind Matters Training, gives us her take on MHFA England's 10th anniversary event that took place in Birmingham last week.
Having suffered a couple of months of ‘bloggers block’ and not feeling inspired to write, I have today found the ink in my pen. I had what was an amazing day with other delegates celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England in Birmingham yesterday, and I now feel an overwhelming urge to write about my personal highlights and how inspired I feel to continue the work that is raising mental health literacy.
The day was hosted by the lovely ITV news presenter Sameena Ali-Khan. Sameena did a fantastic job of presenting and capturing the stories that were shared.
Arriving at the National Conference Centre in Birmingham, I started my day by visiting the market place of MHFA partners, including Place2Be, Street Games, Royal British Legion, and various others. I have to say my purse has taken a substantial hit following a visit to the on-line ‘Dept. Store for the Mind’ since I got home! The Mind Matters offices will look great with the new pictures depicting mental health and wellbeing, and I do hope my son-in-law appreciates his new tea towel - my daughter and son-in-law have an aversion to washing the pots so I thought the tea towel might provide some inspiration to them too.
I then made my way for coffee and a saunter, at which point I spotted a familiar face in the crowd. I embarrassingly did the look, look away, look back, hope she doesn’t think I’m a stalker, shall I ask if it’s her, maybe not? After this stop start greeting I found that yes in fact it was the lovely Satveer Nijjar, which left me positively star struck, and for Satveer, perhaps a little put on the spot since she was trying desperately to eat her cake while I bumbled my excitement to her. As an instructor who delivers MHFA on a weekly basis, and who often uses Satveer’s film when covering the topic of self-harm, this was a long overdue meeting, and someone I had especially hoped would be at the conference. I’ve even had course delegates in the past who have met her prior to attending the MHFA training. At this point I thought my day had peaked, oh no, not even the start (sorry Satveer!).
Poppy Jaman, feeling star struck again! This was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to meet this amazing lady in the 9 years that I’ve been delivering MHFA courses, and she completely fulfilled my expectations. It was fantastic to hear Poppy highlight how MHFA England started with humble surroundings, a small amount of staff capacity, and its growth into the movement that it has become today. What an inspiring lady and leader, and long may her work continue.
After discussions with another instructor at my table during break about her new role as an Associate trainer, and talking about the opportunities this provides, I was then introduced to the inspiring narrative that is the story of Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn. Wow, the joining instructions didn’t say bring tissues! Reminding myself to breath several times whilst listening to their story, which again was very well interviewed by Sameena Ali-Khan, I felt positively reminded as to why the work we do as instructors is so valuable. During the story of how Neil saved Jonny’s life through suicide prevention – and I urge all readers to watch the documentary film about this which is on Jonny’s website http://jonnybenjamin.co.uk/ - I was reminded that MHFA ultimately saves lives. Stories like the one described by Jonny and Neil show the benefit of suicide prevention techniques such as those taught in MHFA, and how they can make a huge difference. Neil described that at the time of the event on Waterloo Bridge, it was as if they were in a bubble.
On a personal note, I’ve been reading quite a bit of literature recently on something called ‘The three Principles’ including a book written by Mara Gleason called ‘One Thought’. Mara describes an adverse life event where she too feels as if she is in a ‘bubble’ effect with the other person. After reading the books I’ve been waiting for what the books describe as a ‘moment of insight’ or ‘ah-ha’ moment, not to be mistaken for 80s Norwegian pop band A-Ha! To a certain extent I got my moment of insight yesterday at the conference when Neil described this bubble. My moment of insight was that Neil and Jonny were in fact themselves having a moment of insight, a ‘ah ha’ moment on that particular day 9 years ago on Waterloo Bridge, though perhaps they wouldn’t think of or describe it as this, unless of course they too have been reading about ‘The 3 Principles’! My heart skipped a beat to recognise that these moments appear to happen when people are faced with adversity. When adversity takes place, whether that is suicide prevention, or another life threatening experience as in Mara Gleason’s story, we have an opportunity to move forward in a positive way. Sadly it often takes adversity for this to happen, but it highlights that from great sadness, threat, or other adversity, amazing things can happen. Jonny, Neil, and in fact Mara Gleason are all testimony to this. My day was peaking; in fact it probably had peaked!
Awards time and the opportunity to celebrate the work of those who inspire others via a selection of awards which included:
The awards were very well received, with a few surprises in order, and further added to my inspiration to continue what I now feel is the most important work I’ve ever done. The life of a trainer isn’t always an easy one. My day often starts at 5.30-6.00am, sometimes dark with minus temperatures outside, and a long journey to some place that I’m not familiar with. It often involves getting in the wrong lane on three or four lane roundabouts, making my apologies to other road users, and occasionally sitting in traffic due to other problems. Sometimes the technical side of training doesn’t always co-operate – projectors reading laptops, ensuring the sound works on films, etc, but once I start to deliver MHFA training something else happens… As an introvert, I personally recognise that an extrovert steps forward. This happens because I’m passionate about mental health and I vehemently believe in the benefits of MHFA training. When I’ve finished delivering I’m often tired and my day usually involves another couple of hour’s journey returning home, or on occasion an overnight stay away from family. The day is typically anything from 10-13 hours. From time to time when my own mental wellbeing isn’t as good as it could be, I question my own abilities to deliver, to find the venue, to get there and back safely, and whether I did an effective delivery. After hearing Jonny and Neil’s story, I recognise why I get up at 5.30-6.00am and continue to deliver MHFA, which for me, because of my own anxieties, steps me well out of my comfort zone every time I train. When I deliver training I face my own adversities in that of anxiety (high functioning), but at the same time my anxiety is thwarted by my desire to make a positive difference. MHFA helps so many people, clearly saves lives, and helps my own mental health in terms of managing my anxiety – it’s my medicine, especially when I deliver MHFA.
What a moving morning, iced off beautifully with a lunch of hot food and excellent dessert!
The day was a great opportunity to recognise the growth in MHFA delivery, but that we too have a long way to go to reach the aspirational 1 in 10 trained in MHFA. I feel completely inspired to keep contributing to that figure for as long as that’s possible. It was fantastic to hear Caroline Hounsell highlight possible forthcoming MHFA products, including Teen MHFA. The future for MHFA looks bright, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the outside world is recognising that too.
I opted for the Action for Happiness workshop in the afternoon hosted by Vanessa King. I’m a great advocate of their work, particularly after delivering the Action for Happiness ‘Exploring what Matters’ training course in my home town earlier this year. Our delegates still meet up, coincidentally an all-female group which I now refer to as the Happiness Ladies. The course went very well and has made a positive difference to all of our lives, with the exception of my husband who claims he was the only person it didn’t make happy as he had to look after the children on a Thursday evening for 8 weeks! You can’t please them all. Hearing that MHFA has been working with Action for Happiness to deliver a workplace course is excellent, and I’m really looking forward to the launch of this and hopefully getting the opportunity to deliver it.
Well what an incredible day and milestone in the journey that is Mental Health First Aid! I feel inspired and privileged to be part of such a positive global movement. Please MHFA England; don’t leave it another 10 years before we all get together again…
This blog was originally posted on the Mind Matters Training website.