I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2005. Since then I have tried to understand and find out everything about the condition. Stephen Fry's BBC programme "The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive" helped in 2006, and I have read books and attended conferences in London and Swindon. Living with my condition has not been easy, either for me or my family and friends, so in 2017 I decided to do pass on my experience by becoming a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) in my Civil Service department.
I would highly recommend this course, or the MHFA Lite course. The four most important points that I took away from the full two day course were:
1.The only person who is responsible for my mental health is myself. It sounds so obvious but it is true. It is therefore important to ask yourself how you are from time to time and to encourage trusted family members and friends to ask you every now and again so that these conversations are normalised.
2. It is important only to help others from a position of strength. If you were helping someone to abseil safely down a building, you have to make sure that you are correctly supported by ropes so that you can help the other person descend safely. This same principle applies when someone comes to you for mental health advice - are you supported enough to give the advice and provide a listening ear? You may be fine for some of the time, but at other times when you need to concentrate on your own wellbeing, it is fine to recommend to that person that they speak to someone else or another organisation.
3. You can say 'no' to helping people. As Alan Partridge memorably says: "I am a people pleaser, and people pleasers please people." I have been guilty of this too much in the past, at the detriment to my own health. My great friend and pastor the Revd Simon Stevenette, approaching twenty years now as vicar of Christ Church in Old Town, Swindon, constantly reminds me of the dangers of saying yes all the time. This is very wise advice.
4. Lastly and most importantly, be kind to yourself. This is really important in terms of staying healthy so you can be a help to others.
I highly recommend this course to any company, organisation, group or individual. I believe that the more people who are trained in mental health first aid, the more people will become aware of symptoms and triggers and may be able to help their families, friends and colleagues earlier. For further information on the course, please search MHFA England on the internet.
Chris Van Roon was Swindon's youngest Councillor when elected in 2003 and was a Councillor for 4 years in Stratton St Margaret ward. He is on the candidates list for the 2018 local elections in London in the Royal Borough of Greenwich.