Research Seminar: Mental Health First Aid and Implications for University Teaching and Teachers

Dr Linda Westphalen

Everyone knows about the existence of physical First Aid.  Mental Health First Aid is a logical extension from physical First Aid to enable trained staff to confidently engage with the first critical conversations with students and colleagues in distress and get them in touch with the best options for professional support (psychologists, counsellors) as quickly as possible.

2020 statistics reveal that suicide was the leading cause of death in Australians aged between 15 and 24, the age range of senior secondary and many tertiary students.  Deaths by suicide represented 31% of all deaths in young people aged 15–17 and 39% of all deaths in those aged 18–24—up from about one-quarter (25%) of all deaths in these age groups in 2010 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022).  Given this significant increase in numbers, and given that these numbers only relate to suicides, the instances of mental health issues in general (Depression, Anxiety, Psychosis, Substance Abuse problems and so on) are likely to also be significantly higher.  This means that course and program leaders (in particular) are more likely to encounter students and/or colleagues in need of support.

Mental Health First Aid is not a counselling situation or a solution to a mental health crisis.  It is one of several possible early interventions in response to people in distress, noting that the earlier an intervention, the quicker professionally qualified help is sought, the better the outcome.  On a personal note, as a staff member who has had leadership roles in direct contact with students, the MHFA course provided me with a language and a process to more properly support students and colleagues in need, and to get them in contact with appropriate professional help as soon as possible.

Dr Linda Westphalen is the Associate Dean, Curriculum, for the Faculty of ABLE, the Program Director of the Master of Teaching in the School of Education, a Senior Lecturer and an Education Specialist.  She is a member of the Adelaide College of Reviewers and the Adelaide Education Academy. She is also a volunteer Firefighter for the SACFS, which is where she learned about Mental Health First Aid.

Tagged in Research seminar