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6. Becoming a Mental Health Champion



Mental health issues affect everybody. Sadly one in four people will experience at least one diagnosable mental health issue every year. The World Health Organisation forecasts that by 2030 depression will be the single leading cause of the global burden of disease, a shocking statistic. Historically stigma surrounding mental health has meant that many people suffer in silence and as a population we have a narrow field of understanding and empathy towards those experiencing mental health related issues.

Recently it has been recognised that we need to promote understanding and education surrounding mental health for all. From focusing on how to keep ourselves mentally healthy to being able to recognise when we, and those around us, are not coping and what we can do to help. Never has our mental health been so tested as with the current pandemic crisis, making awareness and the importance of talking about how we are feeling mentally, so vital on our ability to function on a daily basis.

I attended a half day Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course offered by our trust, Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust at the start of December. This course defined Mental Health as the ‘emotional and spiritual resilience allowing us to enjoy life and survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a positive sense of well- being and a belief in our own and others dignity and worth’ (Health Education Authority, 1997). It is recognised that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and how important our mental health is to our overall state of health. The course went on to cover a spectrum of mental health conditions from very common feelings of anxiety and depression through to suicidal crisis and severe psychosis . As with physical first aid there is a mnemonic to help remind us how to help someone who may need mental health first aid, ALGEE. Assess: for risk of suicide or harm. Listen: non judgementally. Give: reassurance and information. Encourage: appropriate professional help. Encourage: self help and other support strategies. The 2 day MHFA course vastly expanded on what had been covered within the half day module, leaving me feeling more able to offer support and simple suggestions of help to those who may need it, without fear of saying the ‘wrong thing’ which many of us have concerns about.

Partly in response to the COVID crisis but something that our trust wanted to do as a matter of course was to create a Psychological response unit (PRU) . Staff who were interested in being involved, for example those who had taken part in the MHFA courses, were invited to complete the free online Psychological first aid course offered by the Johns Hopkins University, which I highly recommend.This was followed by an hour of contextual training on site. The PRU consists of groups of staff, led by our clinical psychologists, who have completed the aforesaid training and are available to their colleagues allowing them to talk about any feelings of stress and anxiety often found in those who work within a care setting. It has been surprising to me that the act of talking about any issues causing anxiety and stress helps to mitigate these feelings. Studies have demonstrated that these discussions early on may prevent a whole range of problems later. As always our diet and consumption of alcohol, drugs, caffeine have vast impact on our mental health. Physical exercise is known to combat mental health issues and focused task based activities along with those things that we know alleviate our stress are all important coping mechanisms.

I think other than talking about how we feel to someone who is engaged in actively listening to what we have to say, the most important message is that we are never alone in how we feel. There are many others who feel as we do and there are many places that we can turn to for help. Our G.P’s , 111 or A&E can help in a crisis as can The Samaritans (Tel: 116 123, email:,  Mind (, Tel: 0300 123 3393, Text: 86463, or SANEline, Helpline for people under 35 (Tel: 0300 3047000/07984 967708) run by Papyrus to name a few.


Rachel Deadman

Vascular Scientist

Vascular Studies Unit, Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust.