Cynthia Rowe, Head Teacher at How Wood Primary School and Nursery in St Albans, discusses how Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England training has helped create a community within their school where mental health is destigmatised and staff are confident and comfortable opening up to their colleagues. 

At the beginning of the spring term, nine members of our team, including the Head Teacher, teachers and support staff, participated in a MHFA Two Day course run by Lucy Hine from Have a Word.

As a staff and school community we recognise the importance of good mental health for all and have started to put in provision for our pupils, but we also feel it's necessary to look within ourselves to ensure our mental health as adults was being addressed. Seeking well-informed knowledge and a greater understanding, we felt, could only benefit us.

At the beginning of the two days, Lucy was very quick to set out the right environment in order for people to feel safe sharing their experiences. We all have mental health, good and bad, so to get the most out of the course it was important to create a place of trust, compassion and understanding.

During the sessions everyone experienced a variety of emotions and on occasions tears were shed. One poignant message Lucy pointed out was that each of us have triggers, and each of us have things that are difficult for us to cope with. Recognising our strengths and acknowledging the things we find more difficult can help us to help others in turn. Gaining information is important, but looking at our own experiences and how they have affected us is also crucial in being able to assist others. 

As the two days came to an end and we reflected on how valuable it had been, it soon became obvious that for each one of us it had made a lasting impression. As a trained team of Mental Health First Aiders we felt more confident to spot the early signs of mental health issues and now had practical resources we could engage with to help others. We felt that potentially we could help to prevent mental ill health while creating a community that destigmatises mental health. 

Our training has heightened our mental health awareness and empathy for other people’s situations. When presented with adults experiencing mental health related issues, our staff now have the confidence to approach, listen to, and support their colleagues. We've always tried to lend a listening ear, but now we chave a deeper understanding and can offer more practical support – support that has very real benefits.

I'm part of St Albans & District Strategic Partnership, a group of key local public, business and voluntary/community sector organisations working together to improve the quality of life for everyone in the District. The group held a future planning meeting in July 2018 and agreed to focus on mental health as one of its themes for the next year. During this meeting, our we were able to share the positive impact of MHFA England training on our team, and there was much interest from the professionals in the room. 

Without hesitation, I would encourage every workplace to offer this to their employees. Good mental health is paramount to our wellbeing and it is crucial that it is as high on our agendas as physical health.

Staff at How Wood Primary School and Nursery took the Adult MHFA Two Day course to train as Mental Health First Aiders.