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Page last updated at 07:43 GMT, Thursday, 27 May 2010 08:43 UK
How Mental Health First Aid can help you
by Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Mackenzie Taylor
Comedian Mackenzie Taylor performs at the launch of mental health project Warning: May Contain Nuts

If you came across someone who'd been injured in an accident the chances are you would call an ambulance and perhaps administer some basic first aid.

But would you know what to do if you came across someone with a mental illness?

Would you be able to spot the signs if a friend or colleague was suffering? Is there such a thing as mental first aid?

A new course has been set up in mental first aid to help the friends and family of mental health service users.

Annie Yau-Karim from Berkshire West Primary Care Trust set up the course in 2009.

She said the course teaches people to not be afraid to offer help and how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental distress.

A performer at Warning: May Contain Nuts
A performer at the launch night

BBC Radio Berkshire is talking about mental health all week on the Andrew Peach Show. For more information on the project go to Warning: May Contain Nuts

Annie started the Mental Health First Aid course as part of their trust's role in community engagement.

"The benefits are that we saw the mental first aid course raised the profile of mental health," Annie says.

The 12-hour training programme offers self reflections and discussion and they have so far trained 150 people.

Seeking professional help

Over four sessions they look at depression, anxiety, suicide, psychosis and mental health wellbeing among other things.

They also offer tips on how to seek professional help.

The course aims to look at the symptoms of mental health but Annie is keen to stress they are not there to train people to be therapists - it's to guide people to get professional help.

"For example with depression - the signs can be lethargy, lack of motivation, lack of personal hygiene, and in the case of work colleague you might notice long term absence or productivity suddenly drop," Annie says.

"With anxiety it could be physically trembling, nerves and difficulty going to sleep. There are some overlaps with depression."

The course also teaches coping mechanisms such as low breathing techniques. For example, the One Arm Seagull to deal with panic attack - where you use one arm to distract person to help them to breathe slowly.

Hearing voices

Annie also explains how they help people to understand others who hear voices.

"We have exercises from the hearing voice network," she says. "The participant can hear people hearing voices and what it's like for them. From there they can develop an understanding."

And the course teaches participants in the resources which are on offer to them. At the end of the course they help people to put together an action plan in how they will use the material.

Annie said the best way to reach out to people with mental health issues is to be there for them.

"Let them know you are available to listen to them non-judgementally, that's the key.

"People are reluctant to get help, by knowing that, they might be welcome to come forward.

There is a Mental Health First Aid course running at Raise Mental Health in Basingstoke on 14 and 21 June, 2010. For more information contact 01256476981 or go to Raise Mental Health

For more information go to Mental Health First Aid website

To contact your local mental health service provider call West Berkshire's out of hours on 0800 783 9505 and East Berkshire out of hours on 01753 625 900.

Warning: May Contain Nuts

Tune in to BBC Radio Berkshire from 7am until 10am from Monday, 24 May to hear more about the project. You can also listen online, go to the iPlayer

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