There’s a woman sitting on a pavement on a high street somewhere in south west London. It’s the middle of the night, she’s visibly distressed and frightened, and despite the cold, all she’s wearing is a vest, pyjama bottoms and a pair of socks. A nice man places a takeaway on the pavement beside her, and although he has kind eyes, she’s frightened of him. She doesn’t eat the food; it might be poisoned. Later a group of sex workers approach her and assume she is selling her body. They try to offer her better working conditions but she’s unresponsive, so they eventually give up and walk away. At some point a (not so nice) man tries to entice her to follow him with the promise of drugs and alcohol. A local shopkeeper chases him away, and then returns to his shop. For the most part though, people simply give her a passing glance and continue walking down the street.
Of all the people she encounters that night, nobody recognises the signs that this might be a mental health emergency, that this vulnerable woman is lost, confused and terrified that people are trying to kill her.
I know this because that woman was me. My name is Sarah, I have schizophrenia and over the years I have heard many stories just like mine.
The good news is that this is all set to change thanks to a groundbreaking initiative being funded by the South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust Charitable Fund. The charity, in partnership with MHFA England and funded by NHS Charities Together, is offering free Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to local residents of Springfield Village in South West London.
Springfield Village is a new stigma-breaking landscape centred around modern NHS mental health facilities, more than 800 new homes, a new public square, shops and a 32-acre public park. One local resident who recently attended the free MHFA training course said:
Having just moved to the area, I am aware that I am likely to encounter vulnerable people and feel it’s important to learn more about mental health and ways to get support. This course has taught me to recognise mental ill health and help people find the support they need.
Almost 40% of the population think people with a mental health issue are prone to violence when the reality is that people with severe mental illness are more likely to be the victims than perpetrators of violent crime.
The MHFA training courses provide an understanding of this as well as common mental health issues, skills and information to support positive wellbeing, and the knowledge and confidence to spot signs and symptoms of mental ill health. The training also aims to reduce stigma and increase people’s willingness to offer support.
The types of mental illnesses included in the MHFA training courses include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, eating disorders, PTSD, OCD and more.
In addition to mental illness within the community setting, MHFA England also provide training on mental distress in the workplace. Recent statistics reveal that less than 4 in 10 employers would recruit someone with a mental health issue and 98% of business leaders admitted to prejudice against people with mental health issues in their organisation.
We all have mental health and just like our physical health, it needs looking after. Mental distress in the workplace can be caused by a number of reasons and it’s not just people with a diagnosis of mental illness who are affected. Anybody can experience poor mental health, in fact, one in four of us will experience a mental health issue in any given year. Mental health issues can be caused by a range of factors such as work stress, relationship problems, financial worries, illness or adverse life events like divorce, bereavement and trauma.
The South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust’s mission is Making Life better Together for Everyone and holds a collective vision of a society where mental health is accepted as a normal part of life, where everyone has the skills to look after their own and other people’s wellbeing. As someone with lived experience of mental illness and as a volunteer at the Trust, it’s a privilege to be a part of what can only be described as the mental health revolution.
Mental health education empowers people to care for themselves and others. I highly recommend the MHFA training course because by reducing stigma through understanding, we break down barriers to the support that people may need to stay well, recover, or manage their symptoms and ultimately thrive in learning, work and life.