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How's Your Head Space

By Lisa Buchan, 14 October 2019


Last month it was Mental Health Awareness week and a few months ago I attended a first aid course in Mental Health through St John’s, just a coincidence as I had no idea the awareness week was coming up. I thought that since we have to do a first aid course for physical health then it should only be right that I do one for mental health. Firstly in consideration of my role as a massage therapist as we work closely with people every day and learning how to communicate effectively. Secondly regardless of my job the focus in today’s World climate is more and more on looking after our mental health and wellbeing, as it should be along with physical health, so being aware of what my friends and family may be going through and how to deal with any situation is important to me.


What is Mental Health?

Mental Health is defined by the World Health Organisation (2014) as a state of well being to which an individual realises their potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.


Mental Disorder

A syndrome characterised by a disturbance of your thoughts, emotions or behaviour that affects your life, work, sport and/or leisure time.

Mental health disturbance has various stages from common reversible distress to severe impairment, many causative factors and can present in many different ways.


Life is full of stressors that fluctuate, some positive some negative, that is ‘normal’ and we humans are emotional beings designed to experience a huge array of emotions, could be joy and happiness, or anger and sadness. We usually find ways to cope with these stressors and emotions but sometimes it’s all too much and we lose the ability to cope and adjust, or other factors can be involved such as head injuries, illness, brain function disruption.

But why has there been such an increase in mental health illnesses, is it because we are becoming more aware that it seems like more, population growth, access to more information, environmental factors? For all of humanity there has been major stressors - wars, natural disasters, disease etc, is the pressure of today’s society just too much, it seems to be for the younger generation (20-24) and men as they have the highest suicide rates in NZ. Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves and others to lead the ‘perfect life’?

Stats in NZ are 1 in 6 New Zealanders will be diagnosed with a mental disorder in their lifetime. 5% are living with a disability caused by psychological or psychiatric conditions. Maori have higher suicide rates than other ethnic groups. (courtesy of the Mental Health Foundation).

So what can we do?


If you are worried about someone you know.

Follow the HEAD action plan.

HEAD developed by St John, just like DRSABC in general first aid there is an action plan for mental health first aid.

H – Check for hazards/danger; E – Engage with the person, two way communication; A – Action, how to help; D – Debrief, checking in with person you’ve helped and looking after yourself

Are you Ok?

Listen carefully with empathy and without judgement and ask questions exploring the issue. Talk in a non-confrontational way ie. next to them instead of in front of them, going for a walk is a great way to have a more relaxed environment.

Offer support and follow through with promises you make and check up on them.

Many people won’t want to or know how to talk about what they are going through so be patient.

Respect their personal space, vulnerable people may need more space than usual.

Refer to Dr or Counsellor.


How to manage mental health conditions:

Make a plan for yourself or help someone else make a plan to find coping strategies.

Five Ways to Wellbeing: To boost you wellbeing, build resilience and lower your risk of developing problems.

-          Connect (Me Whakawhanaunga): With the people around you, family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours.

-          Keep Learning (Me Ako Tonu): Try something new or rediscover an interest.

-          Be Active (Me Kori Tonu): Go for a walk or bike ride, free exercise programmes, garden, play games, walk the dog, get into nature.

-          Give (Tukua): Do something nice for someone else, volunteer.

-          Take Notice (Me Aro Tonu): Be present in the moment. Notice your environment,  remark on the unusual, savour moments


Your plan may include:

-          GP who will listen

-          A Diagnosis

-          Medication

-          Pet - someone else to think of

-          Day programme

-          Good counsellor that you can relate to

-          Community support worker

-          Job you love

-          Self love, acceptance


Some tools to get help

Free counsellors – call or text 1737

Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or text 4202

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans, Lifeline, Alcohol and Drug Helpline, Youthline, Kidsline, The Lowdown

MIRVIR & SPARX – online help

What’s Up or What’s Up for kids

Mindful Gnats – breathing app for anxiety

Pin It or Bin It – neuro plasticity training techniques app

Employment assistance programmes

The above is just a few points from the course and if you are interested in learning more I highly recommend and encourage everyone to take this first aid course, it has been a very helpful and informative tool. The Mental Health First Aid Course won’t make you a professional in the field of mental health but being aware is the first step to perhaps helping yourself or someone else.


Be kind to yourself and those around you.


References: St John Mental Health First Aid Workbook


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