In this episode I chat with Dr Laura Hart about the breakthrough program making international headlines, teen Mental Health First Aid.

 Dr. Laura Hart is a Senior Research Fellow in the Engaging Minds in Body Image and Eating Disorders (EMBodIED) Research Team at La Trobe University’s School of Psychology and Public Health, and in the Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, at the University of Melbourne.  

Dr. Hart has been working in population mental health for over a decade. Her research focuses on developing, evaluating and disseminating training programs for the public to improve prevention, awareness and help-seeking for mental illness. Her research has been recognized with multiple awards, including a 2016 Rising Star Award from the Association for Psychological Science, and a 2017 Australia Endeavour Award to spend 6-months working with Harvard University’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders in Boston, USA. 

She is currently working on two programs. Confident Body, Confident Child is a parenting program to promote body satisfaction, balanced eating patterns and physical activity in children aged 2-6 years. The teen Mental Health First Aid program is training course for secondary school students to learn how to assist a peer who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. 

What is mental health first aid?

An organisation started by Betty Kitchener and Prof Tony Jorm in 2000

Started the Youth MHFA program

To support young people with their mental health.

While this increased teachers knowledge and increased teachers confidence.

Just training adults wasn’t enough to prompt young people to get help.

Research showed teens more likely to seek help for mental health problems from their friends.

How to teach young people the tools and skills they need and the appropriate level of responsibility that they can have. 

  • not burden them
  • not have them develop a disorder or problem
  • not to be a counsellor or clinician to a friend. 

Just enough to teach them to provide that initial first aid. The emphasis is on getting an appropriate trusted adult involved.

When young people are establishing help-seeking behaviour have negative experiences of reaching out to adults, if they feel they are being rejected or stigmatised or well supported, they’re not as likely again in the future to reach out for help. 

What do teens learn in teen MHFA?

Breaks down concerns about confidentiality. Teaches them at what point the young person can break that confidentiality and go to an adult. 

Tips for adults

Listen non judgmentally

Understand the context that a young person is struggling with

Who are the appropriate supports for that person

It’s ok to say you’re not the right person

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to find the next person who will be the best support. 

Encourage other supports 

  • Self help
  • Linking in with friends
  • Telephone help/ online counselling

Some symptoms can be misunderstood and seen as ‘moody’ or ‘difficult’

If you’re feeling isolated and low, sad, or overwhelmed you my think peoples reactions may be negative. 

How to teach the difference between feeling stressed or sad and having a mental illness?

Change to a person’s feelings, thoughts or behaviours that do go away and impact how they function day to day. 

Are mental health problems getting worse or are we talking about it more?

The simple answer is we don’t know.

It’s really hard to say, we are talking about it more, 

The way we measure mental health problems has changed over time.

Despite us getting more treatment and talking about it more

We don’t seem to be getting happier

We have a higher quality of life than ever before but not happier.

Some psychological distress that’s not alleviated by new advances in health, wealth and lifestyles.

Laura’s tips for her wellbeing.

  • Taking time out
  • Supporting partner
  • Getting out and meeting friends

To find out more about mental health first aid check out the MHFA website

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