How I used my Mental Health First Aid training to set up a life-saving network
Paul Oxborough set up Mental Health Motorbike in 2019 as a way of encouraging the biking community to talk about mental health issues.
To do that, he undertook Mental Health First Aid training with Andy Elwood and MHMotorbike have since helped 70 members to complete the training and create a national network of bikers who are able to save lives.
Here, he talks about his experience of doing the training and how he has put it into use since then…
Tell me about Mental Health Motorbike?
We set up MHMotorbike in late 2019 after losing a friend, Dale Caffrey, to suicide. We realised that the stories of people, particularly men, taking their own lives are happening too often and we need to do something about it.
Bikers are a risk-taking group and there’s a lot of mental health issues within the community. As a biker for 30 years, I’d wanted to do something with the biking community for a while, and the two things just came together.
The bikes are the glue that brings the community together, so we decided to use the common love of two wheels and an engine to give us something to talk about. From there, we can move on to talk about how we’re feeling, and the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course has given us the tools to do that.
We originally intended to do this face-to-face at biking events, but because of the pandemic, we moved everything online and provide support via phone calls, text messages and a peer support Facebook groups with 1,100 members.
We’ve embedded MHFA at the heart of the organisation and provide access to the training for as many bikers as possible. By March 2020 we’d trained 70 people in MHFA and we’re building a network that saves lives.
Why did you want to do the training yourself?
After losing my friend to suicide, I really wanted to understand a lot more about mental health and suicide. What leads someone to suicide is so complex and I wanted to know how to deal with it and equip myself with a toolkit to help others. *
How did you find the course?
It really gave me the confidence to look for and spend time with people who are struggling with mental health issues.
In particular I find the ALGEE (Approach, Assess, Assist for risk of suicide/harm, Listen non-judgmentally, Give reassurance and information, Encourage appropriate professional help, Encourage self-help and other support strategies) formula is really useful and an effective way of helping someone, and I’ve used it many times since.
It’s incredible how many people we’ve supported with the ALGEE formula since we launched.
Almost 60 people at the point of considering ending their own lives have come to us and we’ve been able to help them find support and signpost them to appropriate services.
How did you find Andy as a trainer?
Andy is a very naturally easy person to get on with. He’s very welcoming and you can really relate to him – but he’s also incredibly knowledgeable and everything he says comes from an informed perspective.
I’ve done both in-person and online sessions with Andy. In both formats he really encourages everyone and supports people to ask questions and share their stories in a safe way.
Talking about mental health and suicide is obviously a difficult subject, but Andy’s able to find lighter moments without downplaying the seriousness of it, which really helps you to learn and fosters an open atmosphere on the course.
You can also have a laugh with Andy, which helps when you’re talking about such difficult subject – especially if you might be discussing it for a couple of hours. You might think you’d feel down after talking about such things, but you actually come away from the sessions feeling positive and encouraged that you’ve learned real skills that can help someone.
What did you learn on the course that really stood out to you?
The sheer number of people who are dealing with mental health issues and how many are undiagnosed or unsupported is really scary. So many people are trying to deal with something themselves and not getting help with it, and you can see how easily it can escalate into something more serious.
What has been your experience since becoming a Mental Health First Aider?
In one word, busy! We’ve supported hundreds of people; we’re contacted on a daily basis by new people looking for help and we’ve had 800 peer support interventions in the online group.
We’ve had calls from people struggling to cope with marriage problems to those who’ve already taken steps to end their life. We’ve been able to help all of those by using the ALGEE framework that we learned on the course. Without that, we wouldn’t have been able to manage.
People have told us that the first 48 hours of support they had from us saved their lives and they’re in a much better place now.
The MHFA course helps you to understand that you’re not acting as a counsellor – you’re not there to fix someone. You’re there to listen impartially, be someone they can talk to and help to find them structured support.
That’s really useful because it allows you to set clear boundaries about the way you can help someone, which does relieve some of the pressure you might otherwise feel about having to know all the answers.
The whole experience has been incredibly humbling and rewarding.
What advice do you have for someone considering the MHFA training?
From my experience, I would say ‘do the course’ because you’ll find that you need to use it very quickly. So many people that we’ve sent to do the training have said that they’ve had to use it three or four times almost immediately after taking it.
I’d encourage you to ask for feedback from others who have done it.
The hardest question to ask someone is ‘are you considering taking your own life?’ The course gives you the confidence to ask that question, and to put the support in place if the answer is yes.
And you would be surprised at how many people say yes and have a plan for taking their life.
Would you recommend doing the training with Andy?
Without a shadow of a doubt – he’s a 10/10 person and trainer.
Andy is someone who I’ve constantly felt reassured around. I’ve trusted him to deliver training for us and he’s never let me down. I know first-hand how good he is, and I’ve had the same feedback from others who we’ve sent to do training with Andy.
He’s knowledgeable, fun and authentic. He really knows his stuff, and not just because he’s read about it – he has real lived experience that he draws on to deliver the training, but he’s also incredibly supportive and encouraging to everyone on his courses.
You can tell he’s genuinely passionate about mental health first aid and passing these skills on.
Our organisation wouldn’t be here without the support and training that we’ve had from Andy. He would definitely be the first port of call for someone looking to do MHFA training.
If you’re considering MHFA training, you can find more information here or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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