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I recently attended a two-day mental health first aid training course with LawCare’s Communications Advisor Yvette Murphy, and Administrator Anna Buttimore.
I have always been interested in mental health, and believe in the old Roman adage mens sana mens copora, a healthy mind equals a healthy body. Like many, I was brought up to regard anyone with a mental health issue as a bit odd or peculiar, or someone “with a problem”.
The stigma around mental illness persists, even though the incidence of it as a serious health issue is fast increasing. It is interesting to observe that for a long time the emphasis has been on eating well, exercising and being vigilant for any signs of Type 2 diabetes or cancers, while the health of the mind has been neglected or certainly relegated to second place. I am trained in first aid in respect of physical accidents and emergencies, so I was delighted and surprised to discover Mental Health First Aid, which developed the mental health first aid training course. The programme was created in Australia in 2000, and then adopted by Scotland and England in 2006, spreading to Ireland in 2015. St John of Gods in Stillorgan co-ordinates the training.
I know from working on our helpline that many of our Irish lawyers are reluctant to go to the GP with mental health issues; They worry that to have such diagnoses on their medical records will affect their professional prospects. An Irish caller asked me once over and over again “am I the only one who feels like this”? He was shaking, crying and in a very distressed state. I was able to reassure him he was not, and to applaud him for his courage in seeking help.
The two-day course explained the common mental illnesses, provided real-life testimony and encouraged us in the use of ALGEE, a mnemonic which stands for Approach, Assess, Assist, Listen and communicate non-judgmentally, Give support and information, Encourage appropriate professional help and Encourage other supports.
The course has deepened my understanding of the importance of identifying and assisting those with developing mental health issues or in a state of crisis. I am passionate about sharing the knowledge and destigmatising mental illness in my role as Irish Coordinator for LawCare.
I am now on notice of potential problems, I have a greater sensitivity to mental illnesses, and I hope as a result will be less likely to make assumptions or indeed form judgments in respect of our callers. The anonymity of the helpline gives them a place to shelter, to talk openly and freely without fear, particularly with regard to issues such as acute anxiety, depression or indeed suicidal thoughts.
Perhaps the word asylum, meaning ‘place of refuge’ may now have its true meaning restored, as I strongly believe LawCare offers that safe place of confidentiality and empathy. The importance of mental health and how it affects our wellbeing cannot be emphasised enough.
Mary Jackson, Coordinator for Ireland, LawCare
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