Get Talking: Mental Health First Aid Training at Work

Last week part of our CPSU staff team took part in Mental Health First Aid training, provided by accredited MHFA trainer Darren Clark. Having mental health first aid skills means that you can assist someone developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis and make a real difference to your community. First aid is about providing care and support until someone who needs help can get appropriate professional support. 

Approximately 20% of Australian adults experience a common mental illness each year. Too many struggle alone. MHFA courses teach participants how to identify and assist adults who may be experiencing a mental health problem or crisis until professional help can be provided or the crisis resolves. Trained participants deliver first aid using practical and evidence-based procedures developed and regularly-updated by Mental Health First Aid Australia and the University of Melbourne.  

Standard Mental Health First Aid covers Depression, Anxiety, Psychosis and substance use problems. It also trains participants to respond to mental health crises, including panic attacks, traumatic events, psychotic states and suicidal ideation. The course covers skills-based practices as well as education on common mental health conditions, so that First Aiders can encourage those in need to access appropriate professional supports and respond to common misconceptions about mental health and objections to accessing help.  

Does your workplace have a Mental Health First Aider? Despite the sheer number of Tasmanians who will struggle with a mental health condition in their lifetime, the fact is that stigma still prevents many from finding help. Psychological Injury is now one of the leading causes of Workers Compensation claims across Australia. But here at the CPSU we regularly hear from members who have experienced psychological injury but opt instead to go on extended leave, sometimes never returning to work, out of fear that they will be stigmatised or retraumatised by the process of making a claim. We all have a part to play in destigmatising mental illness and disability – Early Intervention supports, like first aid before somebody finds themselves in crisis, can make all the difference in the world. 

A grim part of the picture is how few supports are available in our State Service for workers who may be struggling. Vicarious trauma and posttraumatic stress are rapidly growing issues for workers in workplaces like Child Safety, Forensic Science, Public Prosecutions and emergency services. But the cumulative effect of chronic under staffing, under resourcing and crushing workload can also be destructive – a perfect storm for exhaustion, burnout and even mental illness. Public sector workers care passionately about community and the services they rely on. Witnessing the daily effects of systemic under-resourcing of services on our communities can itself be crushing for workers. 

CPSU members are campaigning for a plan to make all Tasmanian public sector workplaces Trauma-Safe. Whether it’s additional leave for workers regularly exposed to traumatic events, overhauling our bullying and harassment grievance processes, or ensuring employees have access to trauma-specialised critical incident supports and not just their Employee Assistant Program. We need big change. Public sector workers have come to the table with our solutions. We hope the Rockliff Government will listen.  

The Employer also has a duty to ensure first aiders are available for public sector workers to access in our workplaces. It’s time to push to ensure that includes Mental Health First Aiders as the standard. If you’re interested in becoming a Mental Health First Aider or having training held for your workplace and want help to get the ball rolling, speak to your nearest CPSU Delegate or elected Health & Safety Representative (HSR). If you don’t have either, consider nominating! You can find more information at https://www.cpsu.com.au/delegates/. 

In addition to Standard Mental Health First Aid Training, courses are available focusing on Youth and Teen Mental Health First Aid, Older Persons Mental Health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health, as well as specialised courses on Gambling, Suicide, and Non-Suicidal Self-Injury. You can explore courses available online or in your local area at: https://mhfa.com.au/course-overview  

A huge thanks to Mental Health First Aid Australia and our expert presenter. Darren combined both professional and lived experience to give invaluable insight into the experiences of those who are struggling and how to apply first aid effectively, whether at work or in the community. 

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