Last week I attended, through the Air Cadets, a pilot course on Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). A pilot course in the sense that it was being piloted within the Air Cadets. I came away humbled, motivated, sad, but with a desire to do more for the young people I work with as a volunteer on a regular basis.
First off - I don’t believe I have ever had depression, anxiety or anything similarly lumped into the “mental health issues” bracket. For that I am grateful - of course I’ve had days where I’ve felt under pressure, down or when things feel a bit out of control, but this hasn’t progressed any further than a single day. However I am acutely aware of people close and not so close to me who have experienced some or all of the above. I therefore tried to approach this course with an open mind, trying to draw parallels with the content and real life, but fully aware that I would not be able to comprehend or personally relate to any feelings or topics potentially raised.
The course was eye-opening. I used the word ‘humbled’ in the first paragraph above, as I don’t think I’ve ever considered how much mental health can have an effect on your everyday life. The course covered topics such as depression, suicide, self-harm, eating disorders and similar. Topics that I may have offhandedly previously assumed (wrongly) were more prevalent nowadays for reasons other than “they weren’t talked about previously”, which I am entirely ashamed of. We talked about what terminology to use and what not to use. We looked at the issues facing young people today, most of which were relevant to those of us not so young. Hearing that children as young as 5 years old were still subject to anxiety was heartbreaking and sobering.
I’m struggling to write this post as the words, scenarios and course content are still swirling around my head, and that people face these struggles every day with varying levels of courage, determination and a resolve to get through it is such an inspiration. But as the two-day course drew to a close, I realised that my awareness of mental health issues had been woefully inadequate and that I had learnt so much in two days (albeit nowhere near enough).
Relating this to the development community, I heard Ed Finkler present a candid, open, honest and disarming talk back in 2013, entitled “Open sourcing mental illness” which I still listen to on occasion and have recommended others to do as well. I found it incredibly powerful, and have the utmost respect for him and everyone else who is driving forward the OSMI movement currently.
My volunteer youth work with the Air Cadets brings me into contact with inspiring young people regularly, which I enjoy and thrive on. Sadly naturally that brings with it experiences where some of these young people are sat sobbing in front of me, feeling unable to deal with their personal situations. I’m hoping that completion of the YMHFA course and my new resolve to understand more around mental health issues, will help me to help them more.